How to Understand Fear of Mental Health Recovery

The idea of mental health recovery is gaining ground. The more we talk about mental health. The greater our understanding. Gone are the days where a diagnosis equalled a life sentence. And whilst for some a mental illness will mean an adaptation to how one lives. It’s no longer synonymous with the inability to live what many would call a ‘normal’ life. Despite the unhelpful use of the term ‘normal’.

The knowledge that mental health recovery exists has provided hope for many. Whether the person in receipt of the diagnosis. Or those who live on the sidelines. Waiting and wanting to help. Recovery is a journey. Often one of a lifetime. Rather than an endpoint or a goal. There will be ups and downs and we will inevitably fall by the wayside. But we can pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and find our path again. Hopefully with the support and love of those around us; should we be so lucky.

For more on Fear of Recovery from Depression read here.

For more on Road to Recovery: Understanding My Anxiety read here.

Reasons to Resist Recovery

Perhaps one of the most common questions I get asked about mental health is the following. How do we help people who don’t want to be helped? From the outside, looking in it can be baffling to understand why someone won’t take steps to recover. Services sometimes talk about noncompliance. A stigmatizing and hugely unhelpful term. Suggesting someone cannot be helped unless they obey a treatment plan. Sometimes made without their input. But it’s not that simple.

#1 Square Peg, Round Whole

As I mentioned above, treatment plans aren’t always the right fit. Hopefully, plans made without a persons input are the thing of the past. And yet, even those created with the persons needs and preferences taken into account don’t always work. In an overstretched NHS it’s possible that the therapy or pathway you require isn’t available. Or possibly you don’t see eye to eye or are uncomfortable with the professional assigned to your case. In these circumstances, one doesn’t always have the luxury to chop and change.

#2 Timing is Everything

This is a cliche for a reason and it applies to many things. Including mental health recovery. One has to be in the right place and ready to take a step on their mental health journey for progress to be made. In some cases this may require symptoms to recede slightly before someone is ready. In others, it may be a downward spiral which kickstarts their motivation to begin the work. Because, let’s be honest, recovery is a huge amount of work. Both mental and emotional.

#3 The Right Circumstances

Pat Deegan, a pioneer of the recovery movement, noted that mental health recovery doesn’t happen in isolation. She likened it to the growth of a seed. You can’t just through a seed against a wall or on the concrete and expect it to blossom into a beautiful plant. There needs to be the correct circumstances and balance of factors for optimum growth. And this is true of recovery. Not only does one need the correct timing, as mentioned above, to be ready for recovery. But people need the services in place to support them. As well as, a network of people in the community, perhaps friends and family, to be a safety net. Even motivation to recover and responsibility to gradually take on.

#4 Confronting the Past

Recovery will sometimes, not always, necessitate going back to or uncovering the root of the problem. A diagnosis is often made based on symptoms. But at the source is some form of distress which needs to be confronted or dealt with in some capacity. This can be a huge undertaking for many people. And any form of distress or trauma can be hard to re-visit. If someone doesn’t feel like they have the emotional or mental capacity to carry that burden. Then recovery can be a truly terrifying spectre.

#5 Fear of Return

These next two are the ones that particularly resonated with me during my own mental health recovery experience. As a teenager my mental health problem took over my life. My identity became completely subsumed by my illness. As my depression began to recede I was faced with a new problem. Who was I on the other side of my illness? I had lost myself completely in the depths of my illness. For all intents and purposes, I had been gone for many years. The girl I had been before no longer existed. The thought of re-inhabiting my life was terrifying. I had no idea who I had become and part of me feared recovery. With the knowledge that not only did I not know who I was but that my old life may not fit anymore.

#6 Leaving the Comfort Zone

Due to my total surrender to my illness. I had become comfortable. Too comfortable in who I had become. Whilst my depression was emotionally painful. Full of despair and hopelessness. Overcome with negative thoughts and critically low self esteem. It had become the only place I knew how to be. I had withdrawn so far inside myself that I was no longer involved in the world. And was concerned with none of the usual teenage worries such as school, exams, friendships etc.

The thought of rejoining the world seemed utterly implausible. There didn’t seem to be a place for me. I didn’t feel like I could go back to the life I left behind. How would I be accepted? Rather, life was easier protected by my depression. It seemed to provide distance and safety from an overwhelming world that would make demands on me. Demands I wasn’t sure my mental health could cope with.

Overcoming Mental Health Recovery

Yet, despite it all recovery came with time. And whilst I consider myself almost completely recovered from depression. I have undergone separate, but intertwined, recovery journeys since then. I don’t think my past diagnoses will ever really disappear. They’ll always be part of my past and therefore part of my present and future. All I do know is that mental health recovery was at times terrifying and disheartening and exhausting. But it has also been rewarding in all it’s relentless continuity.

Perhaps some of these reasons for fearing recovery resonate with you. Maybe personally or they’ve shed a light on someone else’s experience. I can only speak for myself and thus there are likely many more reasons people may fear or be hesitant to recover. But the all important point I wish to make is this. We need more understanding and empathy around this subject. Not dismissal by people or services that if someone doesn’t want to recover, or don’t know how to recovery. That they can’t make progress or they’re not worth investing in. People will have good reasons behind their concerns around recovery. And we help no-one by dismissing them out of hand.

For What Hamilton and My Mental Health Recovery Have in Common read here.

For What Recovery Means to Me read here.

What are your thoughts around recovery? Did any of the reasons for fear of recovery sound familiar? Do they make sense and have we missed any? As always, let us know below!

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6 thoughts on “How to Understand Fear of Mental Health Recovery

  1. This is probably an aspect of mental health care/support that a number of people do not know about (or maybe consider). I learned quite a bit from this and will be more mindful as a result. Thanks for sharing!

    1. I’m so glad you found this helpful Molly. It was something I’d been considering writing about for a while as I’d not really seen it elsewhere

  2. This is such a great post. Recovery is different for everyone, and not one approach works for all, do they? It’s great that you have highlighted different reasons, I think people can be too quick to judge when it isn’t happening to them.
    Thanks for sharing 🙂
    Aimsy xoxo
    Aimsy’s Antics

  3. Sometimes symptom management seems like a better option than reopening old wounds to deeply buried truama, even if the alternative is still causing your life to fall apart. Learning to live with mental health for years on end can also mean that that has become your new normal, that you don’t remember it being any other way, so there’s not always the motivation to try and change, or as you said, the comfort zone

    1. Thanks for your thoughts. I definitely think people need to make a well-informed decision about addressing underlying issues and need to be ready to make a change or think about the past

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