The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Recovery and Mental Illness

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 10:00 AM-11:45 AM
Marina 3 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
Cluster: Mental Health
Symposium Organizer:
Rob Whitley, PhD, Dartmouth College
Rob Whitley, PhD, Dartmouth College
Evidence suggests that people with a serious mental illness (such as schizophrenia) continue to suffer multiple inequalities, in addition to the suffering consequent upon the illness itself. These include issues such as unemployment, homelessness, poverty, substance abuse, physical co-morbidities, stigma and discrimination. Reducing these inequalities and enhancing the social inclusion of people with a mental illness should be a fundamental component of a just society. Indeed this has been recognized by the U.S. Government in the reports produced by the 2003 President’s New Freedom Commission. The final report “achieving the promise” gives a series of recommendations, all aiming to transform U.S mental health care so that it becomes much more ‘recovery oriented’. Indeed, ‘recovery’ has now become a defining concept in mental health care; this concept being embraced by clinicians, researchers, managers, mental health advocates and policy makers alike.

That said, the rhetoric regarding recovery has not always translated into detectable change on the ground. This can be traced to a lag between policy imperatives and empirical research- with the former outstripping the latter. This has resulted in a lack of knowledge and critical thinking surrounding the concept of recovery. Fortunately, this research gap is being addressed by social work researchers as we speak, many of whom have been at the forefront of efforts to better understand recovery. These efforts include issues such as (i) definitional haze- just what is recovery? (ii) services- just what constitutes a recovery oriented service? (iii) impediments- what are barriers to recovery? (iv) supports - what are facilitators of recovery? (v) disparities- are specific groups experiencing inequalities in recovery and recovery oriented care (vi) limitations- is the concept of recovery constraining or restrictive in any sense? These are extremely important questions to answer as social workers continue to bear the brunt of efforts to operationalize recovery and implement recovery oriented services for people with a serious mental illness. 

Given this situation, the theme of this symposium is simple: recovery and mental illness. In the symposium, speakers will present cutting-edge research on the topic of recovery and mental illness, discussing many of the key issues mentioned above. Transversal to all of the presentations is a critical inquiry into the concept of recovery from serious mental illness, with empirical examinations of definitions, barriers, facilitators and the role of ‘recovery oriented services’ in enhancing aspects of recovery, all from a social work perspective. Implications of the research for practice will be discussed by all five presenters- who represent mostly junior or early career scholars- all from five different institutions. The discussant, an expert on the topic of recovery, will draw together commonalities and differences between the five presentations. He will also detail implications for services and future research. It is our hope that this will be a showcase symposium on the topic of mental illness at the 2013 SSWR, appealing to all those attendees passionate about building a just society for those suffering from a serious mental illness.

* noted as presenting author
Picturing Recovery: A Photovoice Exploration of Recovery Dimensions Among People with Serious Mental Illness
Leopoldo J. Cabassa, PhD, Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University/New York State Psychiatric Institute; Andel Nicasio, MSED, New York State Psychiatric Institute
Mental Health Recovery for Individuals Who Have Experienced Chronic Homelessness
Benjamin Henwood, PhD, University of Southern California; Deborah K. Padgett, PhD, New York University
Healing Despite Stigma: An Ethnographic Assessment of a Recovery Center for People with Mental Illness
Elizabeth Siantz, MSW, University of Southern California; Rob Whitley, PhD, Dartmouth College
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