This paper considers the issue of relapse prevention for people who have been seriously affected by a mental illness. Of primary importance throughout the document are the voices of people affected by mental illness and their families and carers, whose experiences are highlighted. The paper investigates the role of relapse prevention within the recovery process, through the following:

  • Definitions of relapse prevention and a discussion of its place within the recovery process;

  • A review of the literature in terms of what is currently understood about the effectiveness of relapse prevention and the types of processes that are involved;

  • A description of the elements of relapse prevention;

  • A consideration of the unique needs regarding relapse prevention for significant population groups in Australia; and

  • A summary of the main actions that need to be undertaken to implement relapse prevention as part of continuing care.
Exploration of the multiple views regarding a definition of relapse prevention is first undertaken. The paper then considers the place of relapse prevention within the spectrum of interventions for mental health and its role within a recovery framework. The current level of evidence related to the factors that may impact on relapse is presented: these are the factors that need to be understood to develop interventions to enable people with mental illness to stay well by reducing the likelihood and impact of relapse. The basic elements of relapse prevention are then described, followed by consideration of how these elements need to be considered for population groups with special needs and that are of particular significance within Australia. Finally, the actions that need to be prioritised under the current directions of the National Mental Health Plan 2003-2008, in order to maximise wellbeing for people with mental illness through relapse prevention, are considered.

The overall aim is to present the issues related to relapse prevention as currently understood in an Australian context. It is hoped that collating this information will provide a resource that enables people affected by mental illness, their families and carers, as well as policy makers, service planners and providers of clinical and non-clinical support services, to implement relapse prevention as an essential component of continuing care for people who have been seriously affected by mental illness.