September marks Recovery Month.
According to the USA-based Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “Recovery Month is a national observance held every September to promote and support new evidence-based treatment and recovery practices, the emergence of a strong and proud recovery community, and the dedication of service providers and community members across the nation who make recovery in all its forms possible.”
SAMHSA defines recovery as a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential. According to Mental Health Foundation, when it comes to mental illness, recovery can mean various things. For some individuals recovery means having no more symptoms of their mental illness and for others it is about managing their symptoms and learning new approaches to live their life to the fullest.
To commemorate the month, organisations and communities around the world have been hosting recovery walks for more than thirty years. In South Africa, the first Recovery Walk was held in Cape Town in September 2015 to celebrate the fact that recovery from alcoholism, addictions and mental illnesses is a lived reality in many people’s lives in our country and throughout the world. Debbie Bub, an occupational therapist who has worked in the field of adult psychiatry and addiction treatment for many years, was part of organising that initial walk and has been involved ever since. She says:
When I was introduced to the Recovery Walk it was obvious to me to become involved with a team of volunteers who share a similar appreciation for recovery.
Recovery is a word people shy away from discussing, yet it is something millions of people are living through. Zwick et. al (2020) explains that due to ongoing research, we now understand that “addiction is a chronic brain disorder, not the fault of the addicted individual and that substance use affects the brain in many ways”. Substance use disorder and mental illness are connected with research showing that many people who develop a substance use disorder are also diagnosed with a mental illness and vice versa.
Debbie explained that one of the major reasons it is so difficult to talk about recovery is because of the stigma around discussions of addiction and recovery. Research notes two main factors that influence this stigma, these include the idea that people themselves cause the issue and that people just need to control themselves and their substance use.
Debbie explains that one of the major reasons it is so difficult to talk about recovery is because of the stigma around discussions of addiction and recovery. Research notes two main factors that influence the perpetuation of stigma, which include the idea that people themselves cause their own problems, and that people simply just need to control themselves and their substance use.
Below is a video of Erika Ball explaining her journey with substance use and stigma. Ball is the Founder and Director of “We Are Those People” (WATP) a non-profit organisation dedicated to changing the narrative of addiction recovery through storytelling and film.
“Recovery Walk Cape Town was introduced as a way to combat the stigma and shame that is rife in society” says Debbie. She goes on to explain that the event aims to challenge any public attempt to dehumanise, objectify and demonise people living with alcoholism, addictions and mental illnesses. Debbie also goes on to explain:
I became convinced of Recovery’s value to not just individuals but also families, communities and the whole of South Africa. South Africa has been through so much; we are clearly not a healthy nation. Recovery offers hope, there is a solution that many people have found to deal with their mental illnesses, traumas and addictions. The Recovery Walk broadcasts this. Recovery is real. It is okay to be public about your struggles. We create an event that invites everyone (e.g. individuals, organisations, families and health care providers) to come together, without shame or stigma, to celebrate Recovery.
Here at SAFMH, we are highly supportive of this event because we recognise the importance of raising awareness of mental illness within conversations about substance use disorders. According to the South African Society of Psychiatrists “Abuse of alcohol and drugs causes a multi-billion-rand dent in the South African economy every year…”, and “Almost 20% of South Africans – 1 out of every 5 adults – abuse mind-altering substances, with alcohol, pain-killers (codeine) and dagga the worst offenders, and rising figures of illicit drug use suggest the country is losing the war on drugs. The annual cost to the country of alcohol abuse alone, in terms of absenteeism, lost productivity, health and welfare costs and alcohol-related crime is estimated at up to 10% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), or as much as R37.9-billion annually, according to a 2014 study in the South African Medical Journal (SAMJ)”. Given the co-occurrence between substance use disorders and mental illness and the significant impact it has on the lives of millions of people, there is much work to be done to tackle these oft-co-existing conditions.
This year’s event takes place on Saturday, 17 September 2022, and will be held at Lentegeur Hospital in Cape Town. Debbie and the Recovery Walk Cape Town team encourages everyone, especially those in recovery, those who are supportive of recovery, seeking recovery, interested in mental health and looking to celebrate recovery in all its forms, to join the walk.
Make sure to check out their Facebook page to stay up-to-date with all the details.