Methods: Qualitative semi-structured interviews were conducted in both individual and focus group formats. Interviewees were identified using a purposive sampling approach, and included 24 participants in informal and non-structured intervention activities, three carers or family members of these service users, 14 service users never enrolled in non-structured intervention activities, and five staff members. Data were analyzed by examining codes and themes emerging from interviews, across and within groups.
Findings: The non-structured informal intervention approach was found to contribute to service users’ recovery in five main aspects. Firstly, the intervention activities nurtured connectedness between participants by expanding their social networks and strengthening their family networks. Secondly, learning new skills and encouragement from peers generated positive views among participants towards themselves and towards recovery, which supported the development of optimism and hope. Thirdly, the intervention activities helped to rebuild participants’ identities through a sense of self-worth gained from completing tasks and a feeling of being accepted by peers, which lessened the stigma associated with mental illness. Fourthly, participants had the chance to practice various essential skills, from which they could find new roles in life through volunteer activities. Finally, participants were empowered by focusing on strengths, taking up more responsibilities in their life, and enjoying a supportive atmosphere.
Conclusion: The findings showed various benefits of non-structured informal interventions for participants’ recovery. However, when using this intervention in services for clients recovering from mental illness, service providers should continue to act as mentors in each informal and non-structured group, to guide the operation of these groups and assist participants to develop clear objectives and targets. Moreover, family and social functioning should be a focus of informal and non-structured intervention, as enhancing family relationships is beneficial for participants’ mental recovery.