Are strangers' mental health 'recovery narratives' helpful?

Maria Cohut
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Researchers at the University of Nottingham in United Kingdom have reviewed dozens of articles analyzing the helpfulness of other people's "recovery narratives" and found that they can help people overcome their own mental health problems.

Increasingly, mental health professionals are considering the pros and cons of using recovery narratives as part of the therapy process.

Some researchers define the recovery narrative as "a particular kind of story produced within specific sites: commissioned by or facilitated within mental health services; championed by charities and in mental health campaigns; presented formally at mental health conferences; and promoted by alternative or activist movements."

Regardless of its delivery context, a recovery narrative is one that recounts an individual's personal reckoning with adversity, which the person has overcome and thrives in spite of.

While "recovery" can occur in relation to many different health events, some of the most prominent recovery narratives refer to people's experiences with mental health issues, ranging from depression to eating disorders.

So, from the perspective of a person facing mental health problems, does it help to have access to other people's recovery stories?

A new systematic review conducted by researchers from the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, in collaboration with specialists from other institutions, suggests that the answer may be "yes" — though not for everyone.

Others' stories can reduce isolation

This new research, which forms part of the Narrative Experiences Online study, screened hundreds of books and articles from 2000–2018 and identified 45 studies that focused on the therapeutic impact of 629 recovery narratives.

Study author Stefan Rennick-Egglestone explains that he and his team were interested in determining whether accessing other people's stories of recovery following an experience of ill mental health would be useful in helping another individual progress on their own healing process.

Hearing others' recovery stories can help us cope with our own mental health issues.

Hearing others' recovery stories can help us cope with our own mental health issues.