This section looks at what it means to recover from a mental illness. Recovery means different things to different people. We focus on personal recovery and suggest different ways that you can help your own recovery. Also, we know that often people need support to recover. We hope that this information will help you to work out what recovery means to you, and help you find ways in which you can focus on your recovery. If your loved one has a mental illness, you may find this section helpful too.

If you would like more advice or information you can contact our Advice and Information Service by clicking here.


  • You can recover from mental illness. Recovery means different things to different people. People often talk about clinical and personal recovery. In this section we focus on ‘personal recovery’. Personal recovery is about working towards something that is important to you.
  • You may still have mental health symptoms when you are recovered.
  • Treatment can often help towards recovery. But there are other options that you can try at the same time to help your recovery.
  • Recovery is a personal journey. This is something you might be able to do yourself, and also with the support of others.

Need more advice?

If you need more advice or information you can contact our Advice and Information Service.

What is recovery?

What is recovery?

There is no widely accepted definition of recovery. Recovery means different things to different people.

For some people recovery means aiming to be symptom free. For others it might mean managing your mental illness well to be able to live a meaningful life. Recovery can be a short-term or long-term thing.

In recovery, there are usually things that people can do to help themselves. People need help from others too, such as mental health and social care professionals or loved ones.

Recovery within the NHS mental health system is often referred to as the “recovery model”. This model highlights the importance of building the resilience of people with mental health problems. As well as the importance of family and professionals supporting people’s identity and self-esteem.

People often see recovery in terms of:

  • clinical recovery, and
  • personal recovery.

There is often an overlap between them.

What does clinical recovery mean?

Your doctor might have talked to you about ‘recovery’. Some doctors and health professionals think of recovery as no longer having mental health symptoms. Or a reduction of symptoms, which means you’re able to live a meaningful life. Sometimes this is called ‘clinical recovery’.

You may be under the care of a mental health team or have people such as doctors, key workers, social workers or other professionals involved in your care. They should support you in achieving your recovery goals, and what you think is important for your wellbeing.

Dealing with symptoms is important to a lot of people. But we think recovery is wider than this, we call it ‘personal recovery.’

What can personal recovery mean?

Personal recovery can mean that you are able to live a meaningful life.

The meaning of personal recovery and how you start on the road to it is individual to you. You can think about what is important to you and what it means to you to live a ‘meaningful’ life. Remember, personal recovery is can mean different things to people. What is important for your recovery is individual to you.

Think about what you would like to do and work towards that goal.

Below are some ways you can think about recovery.

  • Taking steps to get closer to where you would like to be.
  • Feeling part of the local community. Working with others to achieve a goal.
  • Achieving something that you found difficult to do. Such as getting out of the house.
  • Thinking more positively.
  • Feeling settled with your treatment plan.
  • Feeling in more control of your emotions.
  • Having a better social life.
  • Being able to have a healthy friendships and relationships.
  • Having hope for the future.

Recovery is an ongoing process. It’s normal to have difficulties or setbacks along the way. You could describe yourself as ‘recovered’ at any stage in your recovery if you feel comfortable in doing so. You don’t need to wait for the ‘end’ or when you reach a certain goal.

What other things do I need to consider in my personal recovery journey?
We think people who are affected severely by mental illness need to access high quality treatment in a timely manner. But this is only one vital part of the picture.

We also need to think about all the other factors that shape our mental health: our housing, our jobs, our financial situation, trauma, economic inequality, poverty and our support networks.

We understand that lack of support can make mental health problems worse. This can leave people not knowing where to turn.

We think it’s time that communities come together to play their part in helping people who live with mental illness. You can have a read more about this in our ‘Communities that care’ report by clicking the following link:

It is important to remember, that recovery is possible when you have the correct tools. This includes receiving support from others. And without support from others it can be difficult.

If you have support from others, it may be helpful to utilise these tools. Whether that’s your friends or family or your care team or keyworker.

Remember, it’s not always possible to do everything on your own. It’s important to accept help from others and if you haven’t got support, to reach out to get it. It’s important to remember that help is available to you.

What can help me recover?

What can help me recover?

There are different things that may help you recover. You should recover in a way that works for you. There is no right or wrong way to do so, it is a personal journey. Some people call this process a ‘recovery journey’.

The following areas may be helpful for you to explore as part of your recovery journey.

  • NHS support
  • Social care support
  • Hope
  • Acceptance
  • Control
  • Setting achievable goals
  • Stability
  • Relationships
  • Support groups
  • Lifestyle
  • Rewarding yourself

There is more information about each of the above on this page.

What support do the NHS provide?

There are different types of support that you can get from the NHS.

What treatment should I be offered?
The right treatment is important to many people. It is often the first step towards recovery.

Often there are different treatments that are used to treat the same symptoms. You may start your recovery journey by finding a treatment that helps your symptoms and has the least amount of side effects for you.

Medication is helpful for a lot of people but not everyone needs it to recover. It’s important to remember that medication may not work straight away.

Other treatment options may be important to you such as:

  • talking therapy,
  • mindfulness,
  • art therapy, or
  • complementary therapies.

Complementary therapies aren’t generally available on the NHS.

What is social prescribing?
Social prescribing is non-medical option to help improve your wellbeing.

You can talk to your GP about a link worker. Link workers aren’t yet available in all areas of the country. The NHS have committed to having 1,000 link workers in place by April 2021. There will be more link workers in place by 2024.

A link worker will work with you to find out what is important to you. They can connect you with local support such as:

  • activity groups,
  • support groups,
  • services, such as charities, and
  • social services.

What are recovery colleges?
Recovery colleges are part of the NHS. They offer free courses about mental health to help you manage your symptoms. They can help you to take control of your wellbeing and recovery. You can usually self-refer to a recovery college.

Recovery colleges are available in most areas. To see if there is a recovery college in your area you can use a search on the internet or call NHS 111.

You can find more information about:

  • Talking treatments by clicking here.
  • Medication. Choice and managing problems by clicking here.
  • Complementary and alternative treatments by clicking here.

What if I’m not happy with my treatment?
If you aren’t happy with your treatment you can:

  • talk to your doctor about your treatment options,
  • ask for a second opinion,
  • get an advocate to help you speak to professionals,
  • contact Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) and see whether they can help, or
  • make a complaint.

There is more information about these options below.

How can I talk to my doctor about my treatment?
You can speak to your doctor about your treatment. You can explain why you aren’t happy with it. You could ask what other treatments you can try.

Tell your doctor if there is a type of treatment that you would like to try. Doctors should listen to your preference. If you aren’t given this treatment, ask your doctor to explain why it isn’t suitable for you.

What is a second opinion?
A second opinion means that you would like a different doctor to give their opinion about what treatment you should have. You can also ask for a second opinion if you disagree with your diagnosis.

You don’t have a right to a second opinion. But your doctor should listen to your reason for wanting a second opinion and may offer you one.

What is advocacy?
An advocate is independent from the NHS. They are free to use. They can be useful if you find it difficult to get your views heard.

There are different types of advocates available. Community advocates can support you to get a health professional to listen to your concerns. And help you to get the treatment that you would like. They aren’t available in all areas.

You can ask an advocate to help you make a complaint. Advocates that do this are called NHS complaints advocates. They are free to use and don’t work for the NHS. They’re available in all areas.

You can search online to search for a local advocacy service. If you can’t find a service you can call our advice service 0808 801 0525 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am-4pm, excluding bank holidays). You can email us too at We will look for you.

How can I complain?
If you can’t sort your problem, you can make a complaint. This is where your concerns are investigated in further detail.

You can ask a member of your health team to explain how to make a complaint and for their complaints policy.

You can find out more about:

  • Medication - Choice and managing problems by clicking here.
  • Second opinions by clicking here.
  • Advocacy by clicking here.
  • Complaining about the NHS or social services by clicking here.

What is social care support?

You may be entitled to get help from social services. Social care support can include support to help you to do things like:

  • get out of the house,
  • keep in touch with friends and family,
  • get a job or take part in education,
  • prepare meals or go shopping, and
  • manage money.

Your entitled to a social care assessment, to see if you qualify for social care support and what your needs are. With more support you may feel more able to take control of your recovery.

You can find more information about:

  • Medication. Choice and managing problems by clicking here.
  • Advocacy by clicking here.
  • Social care assessment under the Care Act 2014 by clicking here.
  • Social care - care and support planning by clicking here.

How is hope important to recovery?

Hope is an important part of recovery. You might find it helpful to read stories from people about their recovery. You can take a look at the following websites as a first step.

You could join a support group. A support group is where people come together to share information, experiences and give each other support.

See support groups further down this page for more information about how to find a group.

You could also contact an emotional support line for support. Sometimes speaking to someone else can help you feel more hopeful when you’re not feeling your best. You can find a list of emotional support lines at the bottom of this page.

How can acceptance help?

We understand that for some people it can be difficult to be diagnosed with a mental illness. Some people have found that their recovery journey may be easier after they learn to accept their illness and the difficulties it causes. Others prefer to concentrate on their symptoms and how they can be helped.

It can sometimes be useful to recognise that your illness might make some things difficult or impossible for you to do. You can think about how this affects your life, what you can do to overcome challenges and what help you need.

It may be helpful for you to also focus on what you can do. You are more likely to reach your goal if it is something you can achieve.

Acceptance may help you to make positive changes and help you to reach new goals.

It might help you to:

  • read about your illness or symptoms, and
  • talk to other people with similar issues, or who have the same diagnosis as you.

See support groups further down this page for more information about how to find a group.

Spiritual or religious beliefs and practices may also help you to make sense of your experiences and find meaning.

You can find more about ‘Spirituality, religion and mental illness’ by clicking here.

Why is control important?

Whilst it’s difficult to take control of everything, you may find it is helpful to focus on the things you can control

It may be helpful to think about these questions.

  • What makes me happy?
  • How can I be happier?
  • What do I want to have changed in my life by this time next year?
  • How can I do it?
  • Do I need support to do it?
  • Who can support me?

Control may mean that you are more involved with your medication and treatment options. Speak to your family, doctor or other health professionals if you want more support.

You can find more information about:

  • Medication - choice and managing problems by clicking here.
  • NHS – your rights by clicking here.

What is a mood diary?
Keeping a diary or log of your mental health for a few weeks may be helpful. You could use this diary to reflect on things that happen that may have had a toll on your mental health. This may help you to take control of your symptoms.

You could write down when you feel mentally unwell or stressed. You can include things like:

  • When do you feel mentally unwell or stressed?
  • What happened just before you felt this way?
  • Were you on your own or with someone?
  • How did you cope with your feelings?

The mood diary could also help you to identify things which can make you unwell. These things are known as ‘triggers.’ Identifying your triggers can help you to have more control over your stress levels.

There is a template for a mental health diary at the end of the attached factsheet; available to download using the link at the top of this page.

What can I do to achieve goals?

Setting achievable goals can help you to recover.

To help you to set yourself a goal, think about what is important to you.

For example, a goal you might have is to give yourself a routine and stick to it. Or having a goal to make new friends or change your job.

Some goals will need more work than other goals and will take longer to achieve. Make sure that you are realistic with your goals. You don’t want to give yourself a goal which you are unlikely to be able to achieve. This is likely to have a negative impact on your mental wellbeing.

You can think about making SMART goals. SMART stands for:

  • Simple – is your goal simple to follow?
  • Meaningful – does your goal mean something to you?
  • Achievable – is your goal achievable. Is it something you can do?
  • Realistic – is your goal appropriate for you? If so, how will you do it?
  • Time limited – make sure you set a date of when you want to achieve this goal. This can help keep you accountable.

Below is an example of a SMART plan.

Peter's Plan

What is your specific goal?

  • To cook at least 2 healthy meals per week for the next 6 months.

Why is this goal meaningful to you?

  • Cooking 2 healthy meals per week is good for my physical health and cooking can be good for mental wellbeing too.

Is this goal achievable?

  • My goal is achievable as it’s only 2 meals a week and realistic to the time I’ve got available and it doesn’t seem too stressful.

How are you going to prepare for this activity?

  • I’m going to plan how long the meal will take to cook. I’ll make sure I leave myself enough time to prepare, cook and eat the meal. It will be good for me to plan what meal I want to cook.

What is your deadline?

  • I am going to cook 2 healthy meals per week for the next 6 months. This is realistic and gives me time to get used to cooking. If it goes well I might do more.

How will you do this activity?

  • I am going to find healthy and affordable recipes to cook. I will search on BBC Good Food for this.
  • I am going to buy the ingredients for this meal when I go shopping with my support worker.

What will you do when you have finished your task?

  • I will acknowledge that I have achieved something which I found difficult. I will reward myself by doing something that I enjoy. I will think about if I can cook more meals a week.

What will you do if you haven’t stuck to your deadline?

  • I won’t be as hard on myself and I will make a new deadline and start again.

What advice can I get about money and housing issues?

Money and housing worries can cause a lot of stress and make mental health problems worse. Secure finances and a suitable place to live are an important part of recovery.

Get help early if you start to have money or housing problems. If you ignore issues, they are unlikely to go away and may get worse.

If you find it difficult to manage your money due to your mental health take a look at the following website:

You can find more information about:

  • Housing options by clicking here.

You can find more information about ‘Debt and Money Management’ and ‘Debt – Options when you are in debt’ at

These factsheets include organisations you can contact for free housing and money advice.

How can I stay in contact with people?

Stay in contact with people who can help you stay well. You can stay in contact with people by the following.

  • Face to face. You could visit a friend or loved one.
  • Online. You can use a free online programme such as ‘Zoom’ or ‘WhatsApp’ to speak to family or friends.
  • Online forums. This is where people talk about a particular subject. For example, if you’re interested in cars you can join a forum where people discuss cars.
  • Telephone.
  • Text message.
  • E-mail.
  • Letter.

You don’t have to talk about your mental illness unless you want to.

Below are some things you can do if you want to make more contact with
other people.

  • Get back in touch with people you already know.
  • Join support groups.
  • Join online forums.
  • Join social groups such as through ‘Meet up.’ Their website is
  • Join a recovery college.
  • Volunteer with a charity you care about.
  • Contact a befriending service.
  • Look for local classes or clubs that interest you.
  • Get help from the NHS or local authority.
  • Get into work or training.

How can friends and family support me?
Friends and family members can offer support to you and help to build hope for your future.

You could tell them about any care plans that you have and tell them about any goals you have.

They may be able to offer you better support if they understand your illness. You could suggest that they read information about your illness.

We have information on different mental health conditions at

You and your family may also find family intervention useful.

What is family intervention?
Family intervention is offered through the NHS for people who experience psychosis. It is a therapy where you and your family work with mental health professionals to help to manage relationships.

This should be offered to people who you live with or who you are in close contact with. The support that you and your family are given will depend on what problems there are and what preferences you all have. This could be group family sessions or individual sessions. Your family should get support for 3 months to 1 year and should have at least 10 planned sessions.

How can I think about how relationships affect me?
Unfortunately, not all relationships are positive. It is important to recognise when your relationships with others is having a negative effect on you.

Keeping a mood diary may help you to identify people who are making you feel unwell or stressed. See the mood diary section of this page for more information.

The following links contain some helpful advice about relationships. You may find them helpful:

Guide to investing in relationships:

Tips for building a healthy relationship:

What are support groups?

Joining a support group can be a good way to help yourself. Support groups may give you hope for the future or help you to take control of your life. They are a place where you can share experiences with others and get mutual support. You can search for local support groups below:

There are also online support services:

What are emotional support lines?

You can contact an emotional support lines for support. Emotional support lines are also known as listening services. They are a place that you can off load how you are feeling to someone who is trained to listen. Emotional support lines aren’t the same as counselling. Counselling is a type of talking treatment.

You can find a list of emotional support lines at the end of this page.

How can lifestyle changes help?

Making small lifestyle changes can improve your wellbeing and can help your recovery.

Routine may help to improve your mental wellbeing. It will help to give a structure to your day and may give you a sense of purpose.

This could be a simple routine. Such as eating and going to bed at the same time each day.

John's Story

John lives with depression. He has noticed that he can manage his condition well if he has regular exercise and sleep. John exercises for at least 30 minutes a day. He walks to his local shop to buy his milk and newspaper on most days. If the weather is bad, John uses a strong wooden box to step up and down from while he watches the television. John knows that his mood will go low if he doesn’t get regular sleep. He monitors his sleep with a diary and has a set bedtime routine, which helps. John meditates before he goes to bed. He doesn’t do this every night. He finds it helpful if he has a stressful day.


John's Story

Learn something new
You may want the learn something new. New activities can help you to learn new skills and meet new people.

You can also include time for your new activity into your daily or weekly routine.

To learn new skills, you could try the following.

  • Volunteer
  • Study
  • Get a job
  • Talk to your employer about new things that you can learn as part of your job
  • Do housework or gardening
  • Learn a new hobby
  • Go to a class
  • Get a pet
  • Exercise

Sleep is very important. If you’re dealing with mental health issues such as stress, you may struggle to sleep well. Your mental health symptoms may feel worse if you are tired.

Not getting enough sleep can cause problems such as poor concentration and low mood. Long term sleep issues can lead to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

If you struggle with sleep, you can try to:

  • talk to your doctor,
  • refer yourself for NHS talking therapy, or
  • practice sleep hygiene.

Sleep hygiene means things like:

  • having a regular bedtime routine,
  • only using your bed for sleep,
  • exercising regularly but avoiding lots of exercise too close to bedtime,
  • cutting down on caffeine, especially in the evening,
  • making the place you sleep is a comfortable temperature,
  • making sure the place you sleep is dark,
  • not using your phone or computer immediately before bedtime, and
  • making sure that the place you sleep is tidy.

You can find out more about how to improve your sleep at:

Eat well
You can feel emotionally well if you eat well. Eating well will mean something different to different people. Generally, it means:

  • Your weight stays normal. Not too low or too high for your height.
  • Your weight stays stable. Not going up and down all the time.
  • You eat the necessary food groups regularly, such as fruit and vegetables.
  • Eating is enjoyable.

You can find out more about eating well here:

Exercise can improve your mental health. It can help with depression and anxiety and symptoms such as:

  • negative mood,
  • low self-esteem,
  • social withdrawal, and
  • thinking clearly.

Exercise can help improve mild depression, just as good as antidepressants or talking treatments.

GP’s can prescribe exercise in some areas in the UK. They do this by helping you get a free or reduced rate gym membership. This is part of social prescribing. See social prescribing in this factsheet for more information.

If you need some support to start exercising you could look at the information on the ‘We are undefeatable’ website. We are undefeatable is an exercise campaign that Rethink Mental Illness are involved with.

Click the following link for more information:

You can read more about physical health and lifestyle changes below

Reward yourself

Make sure you reward yourself for any positive changes you make.

It is all too easy to be hard on yourself. Often, we are our own worst critic.

Remember to congratulate yourself for any achievement. And be kind to yourself when you haven’t achieved a goal.

Further reading

Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) Plus. Formerly living without Depression and Manic Depression - Mary Ellen Copeland, PhD.

The Wellness Recovery Action Plan® or WRAP® is a self-designed wellness process. You can use a WRAP to get well, stay well and make your life your own. It was developed in 1997 by a group of people who were searching for ways to overcome their own mental health issues and move on to fulfilling their life dreams and goals.


Staying Well with bi-polar Guide. Rethink Mental Illness.

Staying well with bipolar is a guide based on the research conducted by Rethink Mental Illness. It is based on the personal experiences and learning of 32 people


Live your best working life. Mental Health UK

Mental Health UK is made up of 4 mental health charities working across the UK, including Rethink Mental Illness. They provide videos and information on issues relating to mental health. This page has tips and ideas to help you manage your mental health and wellbeing, so you can be your best at work.


Recovery Star

Developed by the Mental Health Providers Forum, the recovery star measures outcomes to allow people to measure their recovery progress.


Useful contacts

Emotional Support lines

Can be contacted by telephone, letter, e-mail and mini-com. There's also a face-to-face service, available at their local branches. They are open 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

Telephone: 116 123

Sane Line
Work with anyone affected by mental illness, including families, friends and carers. Their helpline is open between 4:30pm and 10.30pm every day of the year. They also provide a free text-based support service called Textcare and an online supportive forum community where anyone can share their experiences of mental health.

Telephone: 0300 304 7000 (4:30pm – 10:30pm every evening)
Support Forum:

Support Line
They offer confidential emotional support to children, young adults and adults by telephone, email and post. They work with callers to develop healthy, positive coping strategies, an inner feeling of strength and increased self-esteem to encourage healing, recovery and moving forward with life. Their opening hours vary so you need to ring them for details.

Telephone: 01708 765200

Papyrus UK
Work with people under 35 who are having suicidal feelings. And with people who are worried about someone under 35. Their helpline is open 9am – 10pm in the week. And between 2pm and 10pm at weekends and bank holidays.

Telephone: 0800 068 41 41
Text: 07786 209697

C.A.L.M. (Campaign Against Living Miserably)
Aimed specifically at men. Their helpline is open between 5pm and midnight every day of the year.

Telephone (outside London): 0800 58 58 58
Telephone (London): 0808 802 58 58
Webchat: through the website

Aimed at people over 55. The Silver Line operates the only confidential, free helpline for older people across the UK that’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year. They also offer telephone friendship where we match volunteers with older people based on their interests, facilitated group calls, and help to connect people with local services in their area.

Telephone: 0800 4 70 80 90

The Mix
Aimed at people under 25. Their helpline is open between 4pm and 11pm, 7 days a week. They also run a crisis text service which is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Telephone: 0808 808 4994
E-mail: through the website.
Crisis text message service: Text THEMIX to 85258
Webchat: through the website. (4pm - 11pm, 7 days a week - chats may not be connected after 10:15pm)

Mood Swings
Aimed at anyone affected by a mood disorder, including friends, families and carers.

Telephone: 0161 832 37 36

If you are in crisis you can contact the following text support service for help and support:

If you’re experiencing a personal crisis, are unable to cope and need support, text Shout to 85258. Shout can help with urgent issues such as suicidal thoughts, abuse or assault, self-harm, bullying and relationship challenges.

Text: Text Shout to 85258

Need more advice?

If you need more advice or information you can contact our Advice and Information Service.
This website uses cookies to give you the best experience.
Read our updated privacy policy and cookies policy