Pathways of recovery: preventing further episodes of mental illness (monograph)

Education, art and other forms of meaningful activity

Page last updated: 2006

Having a reason to get out of bed and a meaningful structure to the day are essential to wellbeing for all people. Employment is an exceptional source of meaningful activity because it also confers other benefits, notably economic benefits. However, there is a wide range of sources of meaningful activity other than employment, and these are uniquely individual and vary according to developmental and cultural needs. Sources of meaningful activity can be severely disrupted by mental illness, however, because symptoms and lack of opportunities can interfere with participation in preferred activities.

Education is an essential activity for younger people who have experienced mental illness. Ways to minimise education disruptions and support for continued engagement in education are especially essential to ensure future options for young people.

Meaningful activity can come from social, recreational, hobby, volunteer and work-related sources (Smith 2000). Art and music are provided as sources of meaningful activity in many structured programs. However, it must be recognised that determining meaningful activity is an individual process. For some people, unstructured activities such as gardening or caring for a pet are important sources of meaningful activity. Providing rehabilitation programs that restrict opportunities to a few mandated activities does not provide the type of engagement in meaningful activity that is supportive of recovery and helps to prevent relapse.

You have to have real things to do. Things that make it possible to get up in the morning. And you have to find those things for yourself. Going to a basket weaving class every day is not what I need to stay well. —Consumer
Importantly, self-help groups can be a source of meaningful activity for some consumers, giving them a strong sense of purpose. For example, the Mental Illness Education program trains consumers and carers to go into schools and other organisations to tell their personal stories and thereby help to reduce the stigma of mental illness and increase the public's mental health literacy. Participation in the program can become a major life focus for many consumers and carers as it provides meaningful activity, a sense of achievement, a sense of identity and social contact.

The MIE program is really important. I've got purpose, to build up my confidence and self-esteem, like mastering skills, remembering what to say next, doing all the admin. Doing this really helps to keep me to stay well. —Consumer