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NASMHPD/NTAC e-Report on Recovery – Fall 2004

WRAP, Peer Support and Recovery: Tools for System Change

By Shery Mead, MSW, and Mary Ellen Copeland, MS, MA

Ms. Mead consults nationally on the development of peer run initiatives and resides in New Hampshire. Ms. Copeland is a mental health educator and is the author of Wellness Recovery Action Plan and other mental health resources.

Not too many years ago, I was Mary Ellen Copeland, manic depressive. Because I had this label my family was told not to expect much of me. I learned not to expect much of myself. I became dependent on the mental health system to maintain, at best, a minimal life style. I avoided thinking about the future; the present was bad enough. I saw myself through a mental health system lens that was confining and oppressive. Now I see myself through a different lens, a lens that is Mary Ellen Copeland, educator, author, mother, wife, woman.

- Mary Ellen Copeland

Even in these days, when recovery, peer support and Wellness Recovery Action Planning (WRAP) are buzz words throughout the mental health system, it is not uncommon in many mental health environments, including peer support, to hear people describe themselves as their label and to see themselves through a “mental illness” lens.

In the past, this label and this lens has meant life-long professional care while expecting periodic episodes of difficult times. Now, in the era of recovery we have come to expect that people with a label can learn coping skills and can learn to manage their “symptoms,” if they are medication compliant. They may even be employed and play some role in the larger community. But when will they become people instead of their label? And when will it be commonly accepted that people who, from time to time, have troubling feelings, thoughts, behaviors, and experiences (this might include everyone), can also have control over their own lives, do the things they want to do, and be the way they want to be?  

Recovery in mental health is an exciting concept. Even more exciting is the concept of life change and transformation—not returning to a former way of being, but going forward to create a new, exciting, and rewarding life. The service delivery system can inhibit the process if it continues to see people through the “mental patient lens.”  But it can support and enhance this process if it is willing to see people through this new lens.

The “mental patient lens” is the one many of us (who have labels of mental illness) have learned to look through every time we are uncomfortable, have intense feelings or experiences, or difficult relationships. It is a lens that reminds us that our feelings and thoughts are different than other peoples' and that we must take care. We must avoid stress, risk-taking, and challenges, assume others know better than we do, and that there is a medication for everything. Recovery without understanding this lens still only means “symptom” management and becoming more “functional” rather than true recovery and

NASMHPD/NTAC e-Report on Recovery – Fall 2004

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