Recovery is for everyone. Or is it?

A theme for September’s Recovery Month is “Recovery is for Everyone.” It sounds nice, but is it really true? We’re all impacted by mental health and substance use conditions in some way, whether we live with them or know someone who does. But with 74 million adults and 5 million adolescents in America living with a mental health or substance use condition,[1] is recovery really for everyone?

Where do you stand?

Do you think recovery is possible for a person given a diagnosis of schizophrenia? Is recovery possible for someone in active heroin addiction?

If you think recovery is possible for them, do you expect recovery for them?

Think about it for a minute.

Recovery for me

I am a person in recovery. At the beginning of my journey, I was a teenager with a bright future ahead of me who had been given a mental health diagnosis. It was easy for others to hold hope for me because my accomplishments were a recent memory. Recovery was possible and expected for me.

Today, I have a successful career, an advanced education, a home, and a deep connection to my community. It’s easy for people to expect recovery for me because I’ve proven it’s possible.

But in the middle of my story is endless years of pain and despair. My teenage accomplishments quickly became overshadowed by more diagnoses, hospitalizations, failed medication trials, and a disability determination. The longer my struggles continued the harder it was for me and the people around me to believe my recovery was possible. An expectation of recovery was replaced with low expectations of my abilities, personal responsibility, and chances for a meaningful life.

The irony is that these low expectations quickly became more distressing for me than any symptom I was experiencing. It was the lack of expectation for recovery in my life that brought the soul-crushing despair that nearly ended my life.

Measuring down

My experience is not isolated. It is common to determine someone’s ability to recover based on internal and external factors and then act accordingly. These factors may include a person’s income, education history, employment, housing, support system, family culture, ethnicity, and geography; the number of times they have been in rehab or failed medication trials; and the number of diagnoses, type of diagnoses, drugs used and number of physical health comorbidities. The list could be endless.

Now let’s go back to the scenarios above and add a few more details:

Do you expect recovery for the man you pass at the bus stop who is experiencing homelessness, who hears voices and who has no education?

What about the woman you see at the park who uses street drugs, whose kids are in foster care and who is unemployed. Do you expect recovery for her?

Recovery for everyone in action

Expecting recovery for everyone requires an unwavering commitment to the belief that recovery is possible for every person, no matter their diagnosis, treatment history, or current and past circumstances. The next step after believing recovery is possible is taking action on that belief through communicating with hopeful, empowering language, encouraging risk-taking in the pursuit of recovery, and focusing on strengths versus perceived deficits.

At the systems level, expecting recovery for everyone means:

  • Providing equitable recovery opportunities through services and supports, including beyond traditional treatment delivery systems
  • Outreaching to engage Black, Brown, LGBTQ+ and other marginalized communities
  • Transforming practices and environments to reflect recovery-oriented principles

If we all believed that recovery was for everyone, it would radically change our communities and service delivery systems for the better. It would send a message of hope and save lives during a time when suicide rates in the U.S. have increased 30% from 2000 to 2020.[2]

Imagine what would change if we believed recovery was for everyone.

Join the conversation

We are pleased to host a free webinar, “What I would tell my younger self: Conversations about hope, recovery and the “S” word,” on Wednesday, September 14, 2022, at 3:00 p.m. ET. Register today to hear our presenters share the advice they would give to their younger selves to better navigate mental health and substance use challenges, and engage in the conversation!

Visit MagellanHealthcare.com/Recovery for resources to use and share this Recovery Month and beyond.


[1] Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health

[2] National Institute of Mental Health, “Suicide” information

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