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Recovery Is a Privilege

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Information, and understanding diagnosis in the manner in which I conceptualise it as a prosumer, has framed the way I think about privilege in recovery. There are many forms of privilege people can ‘benefit’ from, most of the time at the expense of others.

During my recovery, I have benefited from the financial, emotional, cultural, and intellectual prowess to move forward in my healing and wellness without bounds. I will make these aspects of privilege, which, without question, intersect recovery, visible to you the reader in an attempt to challenge those who believe anyone can ‘heal’ from their illness.

I can’t help but share a moment from my first internship in social work to shed more light on recovery as a privilege. During that time, I was interning in an end-of-life unit in a regional cancer centre. Every morning, I attended nursing rounds, during which a report was given to the incoming day shift. It was at that time when I first heard the term ‘rehabable’, as in, they are too ridden with cancer, they’re not rehabable.

This concept shocked me, deeply. Perhaps it shocked me because I was embarking on a recovery-based learning trajectory, or because, personally, and professionally, I have always believed that no one is beyond repair.

Slowly, I learned not everyone shared in my philosophy of recovery. The very web of meaning surrounding recovery and healing encircles and intersects with privilege. As time unfolded, I would learn more about the intersectionality of privilege and recovery in mental health and other related fields.

The next learning moment came during my work as a recovery specialist working for a mental health agency. I was a field worker in the inner city of Yonkers, New York. During my work as a peer, I would run in a stumbling block each and every time I meet with an individual. This client would remind me, during my motivational talks, that I have a family, and, in turn, there was a reason I was more successful in my recovery than the other people on my caseload. Looking back on that experience, I can’t help but remember feeling the metaphorical frog in my throat each and every time this client reminded me that my family was the reason I was so successful in my recovery.

There is no question that our supports are crucial in our healing. In terms of healing, only some people have family with a vested interest in their recovery. Not everyone recovering from a major mental health diagnosis has people willing to take on the challenges associated with supporting someone they love in carrying on the fight against mental illness. In fact, the layers of privilege go deeper than just family support. 

There is emotional support from friends, from professionals. Financial support in carrying on payment for new medications or housing when the disruptions of symptoms take on forms that cause loss of property, either from self-destruction or misplacement of goods due to memory loss and confusion. Even down to transportation to and from treatment – this all costs money and resources that aren’t available to everyone carrying a mental health diagnosis.

Even deeper are the cultural implications of privilege. Many cultures do not believe in diagnosis. They do not see mental health as something that requires treatment or medical intervention. I am lucky that I come from a background in which my heritage didn’t interfere with me getting the mental health treatment I required from my early adulthood and recovery from schizophrenia.

But, to this day, there are cultures that do not view people exhibiting symptoms from a mental health diagnosis as requiring necessary medical or psychiatric intervention that may be life-saving or life-preserving.

Ultimately, I have been privileged to live out my existence in the manner in which my friends, family, financial status and cultural background have all been key players in hurling me closer to my healing and recovery. Many people continue to struggle without the necessary resources they need to continue moving forward in their journey of carrying a mental health diagnosis.

So, when you encounter people in your life who need help: reach out to them. Point them toward the necessary resources they will need to continue living without bounds. Privilege them with your helping hands and walk alongside them in their recovery.


Image credit: Freepik

Max E. Guttman, LCSW  is a psychotherapist and owner of Recovery Now, a mental health private practice in New York City.


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