Mental health and wellbeing, Testimony

29 August, 2019

Why we should celebrate mental health recovery

The word "recovery" is highlighted in a dictionary, with snippets of its definition of "a return to an orginal state" showing underneath.

We explore what mental health recovery means, while some of our past service users share their tips and advice for maintaining wellness.

What do we mean by recovery?

“The journey to recovery is not always straightforward, but it is always possible”

There is no one neat definition of mental health recovery, and this reflects the central idea of recovery as being unique to each individual. Recovery has been described as a personal process or journey experienced by a person in moving beyond or successfully living with a mental health difficulty. Rather than thinking about mental health difficulties only in terms of symptoms and treatments, as may have happened in past times, a recovery approach places the person and their strengths, goals, and preferences at the centre.

The key concepts of recovery are:

Several effective tools and interventions based on recovery concepts have been developed since the 1990s. These include the Wellness and Recovery Action Plan (WRAP), which is a self-management approach to mental health needs, and the basis of the range of recovery day programmes here in St Patrick's Mental Health Services (SPMHS). Importantly, tools such as WRAP have been created by people with their own personal experiences of mental health recovery.

Let’s celebrate recovery

Mental health means a state of wellbeing that helps us to cope with the normal stress of life, to work and contribute to our communities, and to develop as people. Good mental health supports how we:

  • Think, feel and behave
  • Interact with other people
  • Look after ourselves and others
  • Take part in and enjoy our lives.

At different stages in life, we may need some help and support for our mental health. This might be because of particularly stressful times, or because of worrying changes in our thinking, feelings or behaviour. The subsequent journey to recovery is not always straightforward, but is always possible, and people have spoken of it as a time of self-discovery and growth.

Recently, a person with experience of serious mental health difficulties told me that “my breakdown was my breakthrough”. How often do we think about mental health from this perspective?

But recovery is not just important for us as individuals; recovery is important for our families, our communities and society at large.

Just as we all need to support each other during times of difficulty or distress, we can also all take time to celebrate recovery and the resilience, empowerment, and hope that lies within us all. With all of this in mind, below, several past service users of SPMHS share their journeys of recovery and what has helped them to maintain wellness.

Life after hospital: Recovering from mental health difficulties is always possible

Fiona, a former service user of SPMHS, shares her journey from experiencing mental health difficulties to recovery.

Life after hospital: Recovering from mental health difficulties is always possible

Referral to hospital

In April 2018, I was admitted to SPMHS and was diagnosed with having a severe depressive episode. I spent ten weeks on Stella Ward in St Patrick's University Hospital (SPUH) and, over a year later, I am very well, happy, and enjoying life as I did before I experienced that depressive episode.

I did not want to go to SPUH as my GP suggested. I told him: "I'm not going to that hospital; it's not a normal hospital." I was so freaked out at being diagnosed as having severe depression that I was praying and begging that I could have the "big C"(cancer) and not the "big D" (depression). I believed that being diagnosed with depression was 100 times worse than being diagnosed with cancer! I thought that, at least with cancer, people would understand it and feel sorry for you, but nobody would know what to say to someone with depression.

In hindsight, a huge part of my reluctance to go to SPUH was a sense of fear of the unknown, and a fear of never getting out of hospital. I have to say, when I look back on my time in SPMHS, it was such a good experience, especially considering how I was when I was admitted.

Recovering and reconnecting

The nursing staff were so kind and caring - all of them, without exception. One day, when I was very distressed about never getting better and never being discharged from hospital, one nurse said to me, "Fiona, nobody stays here forever; everyone gets discharged at some stage. For some people, it takes longer than others, but everyone eventually leaves." As a service user, that was very comforting to hear.

Also, my consultant was excellent. She was very realistic about my experience, and, when my family came in for a meeting with her (at which I was present), she told them that what I was experiencing was “totally treatable." Those words remained in my mind, and, every time my sister visited me, she kept repeating them, and it really helped me have some hope.

The variety of activities was so good. At first, I had no interest in participating in anything, but I was encouraged by the nurses, my consultant and my family to do so. I can't imagine how I would have passed the time without being able to do some of these activities.

Staying well: Advice from a service user on maintaining wellness

Paula is 14 years out of hospital and knows from experience that certain activities can play a role in your wellness when you leave treatment.

Staying well: Advice from a service user on maintaining wellness

Fresh air and exercise

Getting fresh air is a fantastic way of re-igniting the batteries and keeping fit.

I grew up a mile from the Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, Dublin; the colours and hues of the trees and flowers there are breathtaking, and I am particularly taken with the herbaceous walk just metres from the entrance. Not very far from there is Tolka Park, which has its very own swans and ducks. Twenty minutes  by car, St Anne’s Park in Raheny/Clontarf has a rose garden that competes well with the rose garden in the Botanic Gardens. In fact, a Rose Festival is held here every June - a wonder to behold. Joggers meet here at 9.30am each Saturday for the ParkRun, in conjunction with Dublin City Council, with an impressive crowd turning up for the five kilometre weekly run, which cater for every level of fitness imaginable. 


Reading has to be one of those hobbies that give high return for low investment. The blessings received for such a simple undertaking as reading are happily very disproportionate.

Reading is really good for the mind. It is educational and, often, just good fun. It helps us on our journey. Apart from the incremental benefits of gaining knowledge and learning, there is such a wonderful release of the ‘feel-good endorphins’ that people come back to reading time and again.

The other good thing about reading is that you can pick up a book and then leave it down and read it at leisure. There are no rules and regulations; you can read as little or as much as you like and you can read as many heavyweight or as lightweight books as you like.

Books open us up to new worlds, new understanding and new ideas. A John Boyne book on the one hand, or a Sebastian Barry on the other, are completely different types of reads, but they are both writers of great merit, although they write in ways that engage me at different levels.

Reading is one of those free gifts in the world. Libraries are readily found in Ireland and it’s free to read from the many thousands of books they house. Wonderfully, libraries order books in they don’t have, even if it’s a brand-new book, or a book just published, if you ask them to, and yes, that’s free too!

Make reading a habit and hobby and feel your happiness soar.