We can sometimes be too quick to think that a young person is recovered from a mental health problem. Dr Pooky Knightsmith offers six steps to supporting sustainable recovery from mental health issues in SecEd.
When weight is restored, scars are healed or dependence on drugs or alcohol has ceased, we can be forgiven for thinking our work here is done. In truth though, this can be the hardest time of all; in the early stages of recovery we are often having to learn new ways of thinking and behaving, we’re fighting the urge to return to unhealthy coping mechanisms and our sense of self can be pretty fragile if we’ve been labelled by our illness for some time.
To support sustainable recovery and prevent relapse, there are some simple steps we can take.
Recognise that the body and brain recover at different rates
If a young person lost or gained a lot of weight during the course of their mental illness or have, for example, visible injuries or hair loss, the return to the norm of their physical appearance can lull us into thinking everything is okay. It’s not. The body can heal relatively quickly but it can take far longer to address the underlying emotional wellbeing or mental health issues and it’s vital that we recognise this and continue to support pupils long after they appear more healthy.
Accept that recovery is never perfect
Our expectations around recovery also need to be realistic. No matter how mentally well they are, nobody has a good day every day, and the same is true for those of us in recovery from a mental illness.
There will be bumps in the road. We need to acknowledge and prepare for this likelihood and recognise blips in recovery for what they are – small hurdles to overcome along the journey rather than a return to the start line.
Be aware of warning signs
Working with the young person to identify the warning signs that might indicate that their recovery is slipping is a hugely helpful thing to do – again this should be done at a time when things are going relatively well and the pupil is motivated in their recovery.
By working together we can identify signs, specific to them, that can act as an early warning system. The easiest way to do this is to look backwards – you might all have missed the warning signs in the past, but retrospectively they can be fairly easy to identify and this can be a simple way to help safeguard against future difficulties.
Read more steps on helping mental illness recovery Mental health: Six steps to sustainable recovery
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