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Recovery is the personal process that people with mental health conditions experience in gaining control, meaning and purpose in their lives. Recovery involves different things for different people. For some, recovery means the complete absence of the symptoms of mental illness. For others, recovery means living a full life in the community while learning to live with ongoing symptoms.

The goal of many mental health services and treatments is now recovery. This wasn’t always the case. In the past, mental health professionals told people with mental illness and their families that most illnesses got worse over time. People were told to lower their expectations.

People with mental health conditions have challenged these pessimistic assumptions. Researchers began to study how consumers lived their lives over the decades and found that many people did in fact get better. New and more effective medical treatments and social supports developed.

Recovery involves changes in the way individuals with mental health conditions think, act and feel about themselves and their lives. It also requires changes in the ways services are funded and organized, mental health professionals are trained, and success is measured. Recovery is about transforming the mental health system so that it truly puts the person at the centre.

Many mental health systems have said that recovery is the goal of their services. “Out of the Shadows at Last,” the final report of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, says “recovery must be at the centre of mental health reform.” i

In Ontario, the Provincial Forum of Mental Health Implementation Task Forces said “the philosophy that recovery — as defined by the individual, not by service providers — is possible for all people living with mental illness is central to the Provincial Forum’s vision for reform.” ii

Recovery is also a central principle in “Open Minds, Healthy Minds”, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care’s mental health and addiction strategy, released in 2011.iii This report followed two other government reports that called for a strategy that was based on the principles of recovery.

Wellness Recovery Action Plans

A Wellness Recovery Action Plan, or WRAP, is a peer-led, mental illness self-management program to help you management your illness, and provide you with a plan when you are not well. It is a best practice that is used world-wide. The WRAP program involves an educational and planning process that is grounded in mental health recovery concepts such as hope, education, empowerment, self-advocacy, and interpersonal support and connection. Within a group setting, individuals explore self-help tools (eg. peer counseling, focusing exercises, relaxation & stress reduction techniques) and resources for keeping themselves well and for helping themselves feel better in difficult times.

As its name implies, it also generates an action plan that a person with a mental health condition can create to indicate how the person would like to be treated in times of crisis (similar to an advance directive for inpatient psychiatric care), as well as a post-crisis plan for getting back on the road to recovery. This might include who they want to appoint as a decisions maker for them if they are unable to make their own decisions, identifies what to do with pets, plants, etc. in their absence. The plan also includes identification of “early warning signs” of symptom exacerbation or crisis.

There are a number of organizations in Ontario that will work with you to develop a WRAP program that is individualized to your needs. Click here for a resource which provides a list of Ontario communities and staff you can contact to take part in a WRAP program.


Repository of Recovery Resources. Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation. Boston University.
Articles, documents, policy, websites and other resources about recovery.

WRAP and Recovery.
This is the site of Mary Ellen Copeland’s Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP).

Related Documents

Open Minds, Health Minds. Ontario’s Comprehensive Mental Health and Addictions Strategy. Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. 2011.

Recovery Issue. Network magazine. CMHA Ontario 2003. [PDF]

Recovery rediscovered: Implications for the Ontario mental health system. CMHA Ontario. 2003.

A Framework for Support. 3rd ed. CMHA. 2004

i. Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology (2006), “Out of the Shadows at Last: Transforming Mental Health, Mental Illness and Addiction Services in Canada,” (HTML | PDF: Part 1, Part 2).
ii. Provincial Forum of Mental Health Implementation Task Force Chairs (2002), The Time Is Now: Themes and Recommendations for Mental Health Reform in Ontario: Final Report of the Provincial Forum of Mental Health Implementation Task Force Chairs, (PDF).