Social recovery and the move beyond deficit models of depression: A feminist analysis of mid-life women's self-care practices

S P Fullagar, Wendy O'Brien

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In Australia, like other advanced liberal democracies, the adoption of a recovery orientation was hailed as a major leap forward in mental health policy and service provision. We argue that this shift in thinking about the meaning of recovery requires further analysis of the gendered dimension of self-identity and relationships with the social world. In this article we focus on how mid-life women constructed meaning about recovery through their everyday practices of self-care within the gendered context of depression. Findings from our qualitative research with 31 mid-life women identified how the recovery process was complicated by relapses into depression, with many women critically questioning the limitations of biomedical treatment options for a more relational understanding of recovery. Participant stories revealed important tacit knowledge about recovery that emphasised the process of realising and recognising capacities and self-knowledge. We identify two central themes through which women's tacit knowledge of this changing relation to self in recovery is made explicit: the disciplined self of normalised recovery, redefining recovery and depression. The findings point to the need to reconsider how both recovery discourses and gendered expectations can complicate women's experiences of moving through depression. We argue for a different conceptualisation of recovery as a social practice through which women realise opportunities to embody different 'beings and doings'. A gendered understanding of what women themselves identify is important to their well-being, can contribute to more effective recovery oriented policies based on capability rather than deficit.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)116-124
Number of pages9
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Early online date18 Jul 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2014


  • feminism
  • recovery
  • Depression
  • Discourse
  • qualitative
  • sociology
  • critical psychology


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