Personal Medicine

By Grace Cherian At seventeen, Pat Deegan was diagnosed with schizophrenia. But she went on to receive a doctorate in clinical psychology. Deegan (hot...

The Loss of a Hero: A time of Sadness
ጅግና ከሲርና፡ ዘሕዝን ፍጻመ
“Front-line workers deserve better”: CUPE Ontario opposes extension of emergency powers

By Grace Cherian

At seventeen, Pat Deegan was diagnosed with schizophrenia. But she went on to receive a doctorate in clinical psychology. Deegan (hot link: has conducted extensive interviews with people who struggle with psychiatric disabilities.

When Deegan asked her research participants to describe their use of psychiatric medications, they all talked about a variety of non-pharmaceutical personal wellness strategies and activities. They challenged the conventional understanding of medication. Deegan coined a new term—personal medicine—to describe such strategies.

The personal medicine that research subjects described fell into two broad categories:
• activities that gave life meaning and purpose
• self-care strategies

Deegan concluded it’s not just psychiatric medicine that’s crucial to our recovery. Personal medicine plays just as powerful a role. It gives our lives meaning, raises our self-esteem and makes our lives worth living. Examples of personal medicine included being a good parent, singing in a gospel group, helping peers, fishing, meditating, exercising, laughing, going to school, working, taking care of a pet, having dinner with a friend and cooking for an appreciative spouse. Deegan cautions, however, that personal medicine does not refer to personal concoctions of over-the-counter medications, herbal remedies or street drugs.

When medications support or enable us to more effectively pursue activities important to us such as employment, parenting or returning to school, we perceive them as a valuable tool in our recovery process.

Health systems are seeking to transform themselves by adopting the recovery model. But the whole area of psychopharmacology and psychiatric medications tends to be stuck in an outdated medical model which, too often, expects us to comply rather than make choices for ourselves.

Complex decisions are needed to figure out the optimal use of medications for those of us recovering from major mental health issues. And it’s too simplistic for professionals who just expect us to comply with their decisions. If medications prevent us from participating in valued social roles and activities, we’ll naturally perceive them as blocking our recovery.

However, when professionals collaborate with us as experts, we can identify our personal medicines, find the best regimens and doses of specific medications to support and complement our recovery.

Personal medicine is unique to each of us. Two years ago, for instance, I learned about Creative Works Studio, an outreach program for people with mental health issues. I became a member of the studio and began painting again—something I had only done as a child. I’m also learning to sculpt with clay. Painting and sculpting allow the child in me to ‘play.’ They have become crucial to my mental wellness regimen. Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons are now sacred. I spend them at the studio.

My personal medicine also includes research, reading, writing, watching movies, meeting friends for coffee, worshiping at my church and taking caring of Mom.

In the recovery-oriented approach to mental health, we must recognize, honour and support the importance of personal medicine.

Grace Cherian is a professional writer and mental health advocate. You can email her at or visit her website: