School of Nursing and Midwifery Hosts Mental Health Conference that Highlights Importance of Mutual Help and Community in People’s Recovery from ‘Serious Mental Illness’

Posted on: 18 January 2013

A special conference of the GROW mental health organisation opened by President Michael D. Higgins and supported by the School of Nursing and Midwifery and the Mental Health Commission took place recently.  ‘GROWing towards recovery: a re-enchantment with life’  was the theme of the conference that aimed to increase knowledge and awareness of the recovery model and mental health; the importance of community in mental health and the role of reciprocal relationships and mutual help organisations in mental health recovery.

Speakers included Dr Peter Lehmann, Founder of Runaway House, Berlin and Dr Rita Charon, Founder of the School of Narrative Medicine, Columbia University. Dr Mike Watts, TCD PhD graduate of the School of Nursing and Midwifery as well as author of the research ‘Recovery as a re- enchantment with life’ presented at the conference.

Dr Watts’ research is based on the experiences of 26 Irish adults aged from 30-70, all of whom chose to embark on a peer support ‘Recovery’ route towards addressing their ‘illness’.

Of the 26 subjects interviewed in the study, just under half had in the past been diagnosed with ‘lifelong’ conditions like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Other diagnoses included chronic depression, personality disorder and acute anxiety. Over 60% had been hospitalised between one and ten times and all 26 had been prescribed medication.

Dr Mike Watts, Head of School, Prof Agnes Higgins, President Michael D. Higgins and wife Sabina, TCD Provost, Dr Patrick Prendergast.
“Having been treated within traditional psychiatric services, these people then sought mutual help through the GROW organisation which uses a ’12 Steps’ programme alongside peer community support as a path to recovery. GROW works on the basis that ‘mental illness’ is facilitated through learned habits of thinking and acting which can also be unlearned,” said Dr Watts.

“The study highlights the importance of mutual help and peer support in people’s recovery journey, and will act as a point of inspiration and hope for other people with similar diagnosis.  It also supports the growing view that when it comes to ‘mental illness,’ drugs should be limited to stabilising roles in emergency situations rather than prescribed over a lifetime,” he added.

Dr Watts is himself a recovered ‘mental illness’ sufferer who has successfully pursued the “Recovery” path.  A qualified mental health practitioner and family therapist, he produced his PhD thesis under the supervision of Professor Agnes Higgins of the School of Nursing and Midwifery, TCD.

Dr Eddie Molloy, chairperson of Mental Health Reform, commenting on the study stressed the importance of the findings in the context of the current drive to transform mental health services from a medical to a recovery ethos.  

Dr Peter Lehman delivered a paper entitled:’ Recovery by Taking Psychiatric Drugs Versus Recovery By Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs’ and Dr Rita Charon’s paper  was titled ‘The Self-Telling Body, or the Reciprocal Recognition of Narrative Medicine’
A panel discussion was also chaired by broadcaster and journalist Vincent Browne.