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Think Positive: How Positive Psychiatry Promotes Recovery



September is National Recovery Month, a time to celebrate those recovering from mental health issues and to remind everyone that recovery is possible. Recovery is a process. An important part of recovery is helping people understand their own strengths to improve mental and physical health.

Recovery is a goal of positive psychiatry, one approach to caring for people at high risk or currently facing issues with their mental health.

What is positive psychiatry?

“Traditional” psychiatry focuses on identifying and treating disorders like anxiety and depression. Although this is an important step toward wellness, helping someone get rid of their depression doesn’t necessarily teach them how to live a happy and productive life. Rather than focusing on disease, positive psychiatry teaches people to harness their strengths, leading to changes that can help promote wellness.

What strengths do I have that can help me to be healthy?

Research has shown that qualities like resilience and optimism are associated with living longer, having less pain and having greater ability to fight disease. Examples of traits that can be harnessed to promote wellness include:

  • Resilience: positive adaptation to adversity
  • Self-efficacy: the ability to achieve a goal
  • Social engagement: close relationships with friends, family and community
  • Optimism: belief that things will improve and/or be successful
  • Spirituality: belief in a higher power, searching for meaning and purpose in life

What “treatments” are used in positive psychiatry to promote recovery?

In positive psychiatry, there are many different ways to help people recognize and use their strengths. The right path depends on the individual. Here are some examples:

  1. Change the way you think. This can involve things like goal setting, “practicing optimism” or keeping a gratitude journal.
  2. Get moving! Exercise has been shown to be just as effective for mental health as medications for things like mild depression and ADHD. Meditation and yoga are great for stress reduction and can help maintain a healthy immune system.
  3. Eat right. Junk food, processed meats and foods high in sugar have been associated with symptoms of depression. People who follow a “Mediterranean diet” have been found to have lower rates of depression and fewer problems with brain functioning as they get older.
  4. Practice good sleep hygiene. Establish a regular relaxing bedtime routine and avoid caffeine too close to bedtime. Check out more tips to improve your sleep from the National Sleep Foundation.
  5. Build social networks. Being involved in social or community activities or routine group activities has been shown to reduce anxiety and even chronic pain.

For more information about Recovery Month, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association’s (SAMHSA) website.

By Laura Wittmann, medical student
Reviewed by Claudia Reardon, M.D.,
University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health


AnxietyADHDBipolar DisordersDepressionPatients and FamiliesHoarding DisorderOCDEating DisordersGambling DisorderAddictionPTSD


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