Both and Recovery

How students are addressing both addiction and mental health.

The past few years have been years of tremendous progress. We seem to be hitting a tipping point in the discussion around recovery, particularly in the college space. People with lived experience are speaking out more and more. They are stepping out in their communities, on campus and online to claim their experiences with addiction and mental health struggles. Increasing numbers of students believe that addiction and mental health conditions do not have to be kept secret or in the shadows but must be brought to the light to help students, their family members and entire campus communities.

On-campus, the focus on awareness and education is proving successful. Students are asking for help and supporting one another through the growing presence of collegiate recovery communities and groups dedicated to raising awareness around mental health conditions. But they also know how much more they could accomplish and how many more people they could reach with financial, administrative and general support from their schools. It is becoming glaringly obvious that raising awareness without increasing financial resources or providing supports is not enough. Students are not just offering support to one another – they are demanding it from their colleges and universities.

Unfortunately, there is a divide that seems to prevent the largest number of students in recovery on campuses from working together. The long history of division between mental health and addiction groups is still reflected in on-campus groups. But how different are these communities? In an environment with limited resources and limited supports does it make sense to insist on separateness?

Students at George Washington University (GW or GWU) in Washington, D.C. do not think so.

The mission of GW’s Students for Recovery (SFR) is:

To support and advocate for students in or seeking long-term recovery from mental health and/or substance use disorders at The George Washington University.

To provide a nurturing and affirming environment in which students recovering from mental health disorders can successfully pursue academic, personal, and professional goals for the purpose of enhancing their quality of life and becoming productive members of society.

To ensure that students at GW who are struggling with a mental health disorder, including behavioral addiction and substance use disorders, know that resources are available, recovery is possible, and they are not alone!

To further support GWU Healthy Campus Initiative through ongoing peer-to-peer support.

In addition to connecting students to mental health services (through the university’s counseling center) and to local 12-step meetings, SFR hosts meetings open to all who are working towards recovery and have their own, on-campus space. Through meetings, events and just hanging out they’ve created a community of support, love, compassion and belonging.

In line with the definition offered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), students embrace recovery as “a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential.” The definition of recovery is not divided between recovery from addiction versus mental health disorders, and it is certainly not subdivided by types of addictions nor by different types of mental health conditions. It is not owned by or exclusive to one community but is defined by the individual. Each person chooses their own path and, therefore, should have a variety of options available to them.

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