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National Recovery MonthSeptember is National Recovery Month. It’s sponsored annually by the government agency Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). National Recovery Month celebrates recovery from mental illness and addiction.

How do we define recovery? SAMHSA has identified four dimensions of recovery:

1. Health

2. Home

3. Purpose

4. Community


The ability to manage one’s disease symptoms by making healthy choices with regard to diet, taking medications as prescribed, and abstaining from substances and activities that do not promote well- being fall within the health dimension.


The home dimension emphasizes the importance of a safe and healthy place to live for recovery to take place.


SAMSHA defines purpose as, “Meaningful daily activities, such as a job, school, volunteerism, family caretaking, or creative endeavors, and the independence, income and resources to participate in society.”1


Last of all, the community dimension speaks to the importance of having a support system consisting of family and friends that provide love and hope.

Hope [tweetthis tweet=”Health – the ability to manage symptoms by making good choices, not necessarily to be totally without symptoms.”]

Notice that the SAMHSA definition of recovery doesn’t say anything about being “normal.” We can’t define normal. People who recover from a serious mental illness or addiction are usually changed in significant ways. Recovery doesn’t require the person to be exactly as they were. You can’t go through the experience of dealing with a mental illness or addiction without becoming an emotionally deeper, stronger person. It also doesn’t require that the person be totally free of the illness. People with mental illness and/or addiction (you can have both) are always vulnerable. I particularly like the SAMHSA definition of the health dimension – the ability to manage symptoms by making good choices, not necessarily to be totally without symptoms.

Many people, with and without serious illness, struggle with finding meaning and purpose in life. I like the SAMHSA examples of purpose – having meaningful daily activities such as a job, caretaking, volunteering, being creative. Living life as best you can meets the definition of purpose in my opinion.

People with mental illness and/or addiction can recover. If you know someone working to recover, the most important thing you can give them is hope.

Check out the resources available on recoverymonth.gov.





1 SAMHSA’s Working Definition of Recovery, download PDF at store.samhsa.gov.

This blog post originally appeared on the blog, Dr. Colleen: Bringing Psychiatry to You. Reprinted with permission.

If you need help on your road to recovery, contact UofL Physicians – Psychiatry at (502) 588-4450.

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Article by:

Colleen Ryan, M.D.

Dr. Colleen Ryan has been a psychiatrist for more than 30 years. She is a UofL Physicians provider, as well as an assistant professor of psychiatry for the University of Louisville School of Medicine. In these roles her responsibilities include outpatient treatment of addiction and general psychiatric patients, as well as teaching and supervision of psychiatry residents.

All posts by Colleen Ryan, M.D.
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