Mental and/or substance use disorders (also known as behavioral health conditions) affect millions of individuals, as well as their families and friends who are concerned about them. Many opportunities exist to help them reclaim their lives, restore their relationships, and build promising futures. With the right care, support, and commitment, people with behavioral health conditions can improve their health and direct their own recovery path.
The 23rd annual National Recovery Month (Recovery Month) observance this September will celebrate the effectiveness of treatment services and the reality of recovery. Recovery Month is sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
This year's theme, "Join the Voices for Recovery: It's Worth It," emphasizes that while the road to recovery may be difficult, the benefits of preventing and overcoming mental and/or substance use disorders are significant and valuable to individuals, families, and communities. People in recovery achieve healthy lifestyles, both physically and emotionally, and contribute in positive ways to their communities. They also prove to family members, friends, and others that prevention works, treatment is effective, and people recover.
The Recovery Month campaign aligns with many of SAMHSA's Strategic Initiatives, which guide SAMHSA's work to help people with mental and/or substance use disorders, their communities, and their families. SAMHSA works to help people prevent and overcome costly behavioral health conditions and to promote overall health and well-being for all Americans.
This overview details the spectrum of behavioral health conditions, as well as prevention and recovery across different audiences, including active military, veterans, and families; people within the justice system; friends and families of someone in need; and the recovery community. Additional sections in this toolkit address how all individuals can harness the strength, hope, and courage to overcome their disorders and actively participate in family life and their communities. In addition, the "Join the Voices for Recovery" document shares positive journeys from the perspectives of multiple individuals in recovery.
The Current Mental Health and Substance Use Landscape – And the Promise of Recovery
Mental and/or substance use disorders and recovery from these disorders are prevalent in people of every ethnicity, age, gender, geographic region, and socioeconomic level. Approximately 45.9 million adults aged 18 or older had a mental illness in the past year, and 11.4 million adults aged 18 or older had a serious mental illness.1 Additionally, 22.1 million Americans aged 12 or older were classified with substance dependence or abuse (substance use disorders).2 Of these people, 17.9 million people aged 12 or older met the criteria for alcohol dependence or abuse.3
Mental illnesses include major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and borderline personality disorder.4 These illnesses can result in severe functional impairment, substantially interfering with or limiting one or more of a person's major life activities.5 They can also disrupt relationships with family members, friends, co-workers, and neighbors.
Substance use is another common problem. People with substance use disorders have problems with misuse, dependence on, or addiction to alcohol, tobacco, and/or illicit or prescription drugs. Substance use disorders include both physical and mental symptoms.6 Similar to many other health conditions, genetics can play a role in the development of a substance use disorder.7
The positive news is that millions of Americans are in recovery from mental and/or substance use disorders today.8 SAMHSA defines recovery from mental and/or substance use disorders as a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential.9 SAMHSA supplements this definition with four major dimensions that support a life in recovery:10
Health: Overcome or manage one's disease(s) or symptoms - and make informed, healthy choices that support physical and emotional well-being;
Home: Have a stable and safe place to live;
Purpose: Participate in meaningful daily activities, such as a job, school, volunteer opportunities, family caretaking, or creative endeavors, and have the independence, income, and resources to participate in society; and
Community: Enjoy relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love, and hope.
People in long-term recovery can gain a sense of pride from helping those in need, and individuals beginning their road to recovery can learn from their experiences. While each person experiences his or her own unique journey, for many people, recovery:11
- Emerges from hope;
- Is person-driven;
- Occurs via many pathways;
- Is holistic;
- Is supported by peers and allies;
- Is supported by relationships and social networks;
- Is culturally based and influenced;
- Is supported by addressing trauma;
- Involves individual, family, and community strengths and responsibilities; and
- Is based on respect.
Encourage Recovery by Meeting Individual Needs
This year's Recovery Month campaign focuses on a range of individuals who pursue a better quality of life, as well as the people who make it possible for them to achieve and sustain recovery. Each group described below faces a unique road to recovery, with different challenges, needs, and support options. Further information on each group can be found in their respective sections in the toolkit.
Members of the military are often exposed to extremely stressful situations, such as deployment and combat, that can affect mental health and substance use, and they may be hesitant to seek help for fear of damaging their careers.12 Furthermore, individuals may have a difficult time adjusting back into active service following deployment. Additionally, families of deployed members of the military may face behavioral health challenges. SAMHSA's Military Families Strategic Initiative leads efforts to ensure that behavioral health services are accessible to military families in need.
People in the criminal justice system experience mental and/or substance use disorders at increased rates compared with the general population. In fact, inmates in local jails are 3 to 6 times more likely than the general population to have a serious mental illness,13 and between 60 percent and 80 percent of individuals in the criminal justice system have a substance use disorder.14 SAMHSA's Trauma and Justice Strategic Initiative addresses the needs of people within the criminal and juvenile justice systems with mental and/or substance use disorders with histories of trauma, and sets out to reduce its effects.
Close relatives of those in need may need to seek help for themselves and their families to help them cope with their loved one's problem. Various techniques can be used by family and friends to effectively reach someone experiencing a mental and/or substance use disorder and give them the strength, guidance, and confidence to seek help. Friends who are positive influences can be important allies and offer continuous support for individuals working toward their recovery.
There is perhaps no stronger advocate for recovery than peers who are already sustaining recovery. Many people who are struggling need someone they can empathize with, trust, and relate to while embarking on their own journey. Social supports can improve recovery outcomes.15
Both the Families and Friends and Recovery Community documents align with SAMHSA's Recovery Support Strategic Initiative, which partners with people in recovery from mental and/or substance use disorders to promote individual, program, and system-level approaches to recovery.
Additional Recovery Resources
A variety of resources provide additional information on Recovery Month and mental and/or substance use disorders, as well as prevention, treatment, and recovery support services. The toll-free numbers and websites below are available for people to share their experiences, learn from others, and seek help from professionals. Through these resources, individuals can interact with others and find support on an as-needed, confidential basis.
– Leads efforts to reduce the impact of mental and/or substance use disorders on communities nationwide.
SAMHSA's National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or 1-800-487-4889 (TDD) – Provides 24-hour free and confidential treatment referral and information about mental and/or substance use disorders, prevention, and recovery in English and Spanish.
SAMHSA's "Find Substance Abuse and Mental Health Treatment" Website
– Contains information about treatment options and special services located in your area.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) – Provides a free, 24-hour helpline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.
Technical Assistance Centers – SAMHSA supports technical assistance centers that promote peer-directed approaches for adults with behavioral health conditions. Such programs maximize self-determination and recovery and assist people on their path to recovery, ultimately decreasing their dependence on expensive social services and avoiding hospitalization. The five technical assistance centers include:
Bringing Recovery Supports to Scale Technical Assistance Center Strategy (BRSS TACS) – Provides policy and practice analysis, as well as training and technical assistance, to States, providers, and systems to increase the adoption and implementation of recovery supports with behavioral health issues.
For more information, read the in-depth version of this guide. Information about treatment options and special services in your area can be found by calling 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or 1-800-487-4889 (TDD), as well as at http://www.samhsa.gov/treatment.
Inclusion of websites and resources in this document and on the Recovery Month website does not constitute official endorsement by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.