Always having recovery in mind

Being labelled by society and even by those in the caring services may be unintentional, it may come from fear or ignorance, but it will always be damaging, and should be tackled. But what is the best way forward? This was the question raised at the ESN’s workshop 'Implementing local personalised social services: recovery from a professional and user perspective'. Taking place as part of the official programme of the European Conference against Stigma in Lisbon on 8-9 November, the workshop was organised by ESN’s Mental Health Working Group.

"ESN is determined to help improve the life of those most vulnerable, and as such, mental health has been a cross cutting issue in the policy work carried out by us," said John Halloran, Chief Executive of ESN, opening the workshop. ESN previously organized a seminar in 2009 on ‘Building Partnerships in Mental Health for Economic and Social Integration’ in Madrid.

Marianne Cohen, Director of the Recovery Unit of the Department of Social Services of the Municipality of Aarhus (Denmark), presented the professional perspective on the concept of recovery as an expression of a personalized approach to help people with mental health problems. This process has been implemented for over two years and an evaluation has shown that satisfaction among users has increased. In order to guarantee that the process is a success, partnerships at local level between different departments are crucial. In the case of Aarhus municipality, the department of social services and the department of mental health have developed a common organization providing a single point of contact. “When a user needs help, they only have one door in", Marianne explains.

But how is recovery understood? In literature, recovery can be understood either as full or social recovery. In full recovery, patients no longer need any kind of medication or treatment, whilst social recovery means independence in residential and economic matters, but with some support. Studies dating back 20 or 30 years show that around 25 % of those with mental health problems recover completely over a period of many years and up to 50% recover socially. Marianne referred to recovery as 1) a lived experience, 2) a phenomenon and 3) a professional approach. It is a phenomenon because everyone has the chance to recover, it is a lived experience by the user and it can be understood from a professional approach.

Positive stories send a message of hope for users, as shown by Lise Jul Pedersen, Member of the Steering Committee of the Recovery Unit of the Department of Social Services of Aarhus, and a user who has recovered. Lise (pictured on the right) raised a challenging question whether the label 'very ill' in people with a mental health issue was due to their mental illness or the fact that they had lost hope and had been kicked out of society? 

Having listened to the presenters, participants shared their reactions. Mary Nettle, European Network of (ex) Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, recalled that “people with mental health problems have relationships (like anyone else) and the way they are treated by social services is disgraceful; for instance, the problems faced by those mothers with mental health issues who want to have a child and are dissuaded by social services.

Nace Kovac, Mental Health Europe, added that this is “a violation of a human right by health and social services’ professionals”. He insisted on the need to educate the community as the only way forward. Picking up on this, John Bowis, a former MEP and member of ESN’s high-level advisory group on developing community care, said that “professionals’ training is crucial, as is the need to involve people with mental health problems, rather than just working in their interests”. Marta Nieto, FISLEM, insisted: “The users’ participation in delivering, planning and evaluating our care systems is crucial to guarantee successful recovery.”

ESN Working Group on Mental Health and Well-being will hold two more meetings in 2011, will work with the European Commission in the preparation of the Berlin Conference on the promotion of mental health in the workplace and will produce a report that will issue policy recommendations at EU level.