People in forensic (or secure) mental health services should be offered support that helps them in their personal recovery journeys, according to a new briefing paper published by Centre for Mental Health and the Mental Health Network of the NHS Confederation today.

Making Recovery a Reality in Forensic Settings, produced as part of the Implementing Recovery through Organisational Change (ImROC) programme, finds that recovery for people in forensic services is in most ways the same as for those using other mental health services. Hope for the future, control over your life and illness, and opportunity for a life beyond illness are key for both. But people with offending histories also have to come to terms with what they have done. Forensic services can help them to recover by supporting them to 'come to terms with themselves'.

James Wooldridge, co-author of the briefing, with personal experience of using forensic services, said: "For many people using forensic services, one of the biggest parts of recovery is hope. People struggle with this and they know they can't undo the past. It is difficult if you are struggling with violent or frightening thoughts. There is no 'magic pill' or 'magic person' that will take these away. For many people, the only example that will really work is someone who has ‘been there’ and can say from experience that it is possible to rebuild a life outside hospital."

The briefing paper examines how recovery principles and practices can be applied in forensic mental health services. It looks at the importance of relationships between professionals and service users and the potential of peer support and Recovery Colleges to improve people's experiences of forensic care and inspire greater hope for the future. It explores how risk and safety can be managed positively as part of a recovery journey, using personal safety planning to involve both users and professionals in the process. And it examines ways of creating opportunities for meaningful occupation and employment for people in forensic services.

Dr Gerard Drennan, co-author of the briefing, said: "Forensic settings are probably some of the hardest places to apply recovery principles. But the process of recovery is as important for people in forensic services as for anyone else. And our briefing sets out how recovery principles can be expressed in a meaningful, not tokenistic, fashion. Achieving this has implications for professionals and service users alike which can help to change the way forensic services work without compromising their duty to maintain public safety."

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