After Mental Health Crisis, Well-Being Is Possible Again, But It’s Probably Not Going To Come From A Prescription Pill


At a recent medical conference, I was surprised to hear a speaker knock the recovery movement in mental health. The presenter implied that there was something bad, and inherently “political” about the consumer movement, where people with mental illness advocate for themselves and push for full recovery. I wondered what was wrong with wanting to be fully well.

I’m sure someone on the inside of the physicians organizations could explain this to me- bring me up to speed on what I’m not seeing. Probably it’s a matter of “us” and “them.” “Us” physicians are being accused of not providing “them,” the healthcare consumers (patients) with opportunities for full recovery. And heck, that hurts our feelings because we really are doing the best we can over here.

The psychiatric profession cares about recovery, but on the whole I think we may be focusing on the wrong road to get to it: Neuroscience. Our research focuses on finding the specific brain areas involved in diseases, and the genes that encode those diseases, all to help us create better medications so we can cure mental health conditions. Neuroscientific discovery is vital to improving treatments for mental health conditions, no doubt. But mental health is bio-psycho-social and spiritual. Getting well isn’t just a function of neurotransmitters and circuits in the brain.

Psychiatric physicians need to acknowledge the importance of the recovery movement without the narrow focus on biology. After a mental health crisis or a break, well-being is possible again, and it’s probably not going to come from a prescription pill bottle. The pills will help in many cases, to turn off problem nervous system activity. And yet they won’t make people well.

Real recovery is about picking yourself back up when the time comes, and that comes from courage and hope.

Hope doesn’t come from the doctor’s symptom checklists, or from tweaking meds at every appointment because we think that’s the job description. What is the prescribing psychiatrist’s role, then, in helping patient achieve a true place of recovery? We need to have hope for our patients. We need to offer a perspective of experienced wisdom, and show them that we know it can get better.

Recovery in mental health leans largely on the psychosocial and the spiritual aspects of well-being. When symptoms are managed, recovery stems from rebuilding courage, through the hope we reflect back to our patients.

Posted on December 18, 2017 .