Recovery and Severe Mental Illness: The Role of Romantic Relationships, Intimacy, and Sexuality

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Abstract

Objective: The overall aim of this article is to examine the self-defined role of romantic relationships, intimacy and sexuality in recovery from severe mental illness. Method: Semistructured interviews were conducted with 35 people with severe mental illness, accompanied by participant observation. Data were analyzed using thematic analysis. Results: The vast majority of participants considered a supportive relationship that was emotionally or sexually intimate to be a key facilitator and indicator of recovery. However, only a small minority of participants were actually in such a relationship. Participants reported numerous barriers to forming and maintaining such relationships such as financial strain and enduring stigma against people with mental illness. Conclusion and Implications for Practice: Addressing relational and intimate needs have not been a focus of traditional psychiatric services. As such, some form of “supported dating” within the field of psychosocial rehabilitation may be an essential development to foster an oft-overlooked but important aspect of recovery.

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