“Right Here Is an Oasis”: How “Recovery Communities” Contribute to Recovery for People With Serious Mental Illnesses

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Abstract

Objective: “Creating Communities” is a study that examines the influence of stable housing on recovery within intentional communities of people living with severe mental illnesses in Washington, DC. We label these configurations “recovery communities” (RCs). The authors aim to identify features of the contextual environment of RCs that contribute to recovery from the perspective of RC residents. Method: Focus groups were conducted with RC residents at 4-month intervals to inquire into day-to-day life in the communities. Focus group transcripts were reviewed and thematic analysis was conducted to identify prominent and emergent themes relating to the RC and recovery. Results: Thematic analysis yielded three contextual domains through which study participants articulate the RC contributing to their recovery: (a) service environment, (b) physical environment, and (c) social environment. RCs are embedded in a complementary service system; the physical environment provides a refuge from homelessness, drug activity, and violence; and the social environment offers a place to “belong” amid peer-support for mental health and sobriety. Conclusions and Implications for Practice: Findings suggest the need for recovery-oriented services to be holistic and prepared to address multiple, complex needs that include, but go beyond, clinical efforts to reduce psychiatric symptomatology, substance use, and the impact of trauma. People with serious mental illnesses living in RCs express the need for support that ranges from the very concrete to the less tangible, fundamental need for connection and belonging. As a rehabilitative strategy, RCs offer support for the mitigation of psychiatric challenges as well as a refuge from poverty and homelessness.

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