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Open Access Highly Accessed Debate

Mental illness and well-being: the central importance of positive psychology and recovery approaches

Mike Slade

Author Affiliations

Health Service and Population Research Department (Box P029), Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, Denmark Hill, London, SE5 8AF UK

BMC Health Services Research 2010, 10:26  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-10-26

Published: 26 January 2010

Abstract

Background

A new evidence base is emerging, which focuses on well-being. This makes it possible for health services to orientate around promoting well-being as well as treating illness, and so to make a reality of the long-standing rhetoric that health is more than the absence of illness. The aim of this paper is to support the re-orientation of health services around promoting well-being. Mental health services are used as an example to illustrate the new knowledge skills which will be needed by health professionals.

Discussion

New forms of evidence give a triangulated understanding about the promotion of well-being in mental health services. The academic discipline of positive psychology is developing evidence-based interventions to improve well-being. This complements the results emerging from synthesising narratives about recovery from mental illness, which provide ecologically valid insights into the processes by which people experiencing mental illness can develop a purposeful and meaningful life. The implications for health professionals are explored. In relation to working with individuals, more emphasis on the person's own goals and strengths will be needed, with integration of interventions which promote well-being into routine clinical practice. In addition, a more societally-focussed role for professionals is envisaged, in which a central part of the job is to influence local and national policies and practices that impact on well-being.

Summary

If health services are to give primacy to increasing well-being, rather than to treating illness, then health workers need new approaches to working with individuals. For mental health services, this will involve the incorporation of emerging knowledge from recovery and from positive psychology into education and training for all mental health professionals, and changes to some long-established working practices.