Raf Hamaizia

‘From a seclusion room to the Board Room’: a lived experience perspective on ‘recovery’ and the changing face of mental health care today

Historically, mental health care has worked within a more symptom focussed and medicalised model based on confinement, psychological interventions and psychotropic medications. This model has not always been the most involving towards people experiencing mental distress within a system often ‘doing to’ as opposed to ‘doing with’.

Raf Hamaizia 

Following the pharmacological revolution of the 1950’s the concept of ‘recovery’ in the context of mental health started to emerge, following the rise of the physical disability movement in the 1960’s and a study on people’s lived experience of mental health in the 1980’s. Whilst there is still no clear definition of recovery, there is some consensus on it being the belief that people experiencing mental distress can live a meaningful life beyond diagnosis without the need of having to be symptom-free. In the modern world, mental health care globally has started to rapidly embrace the concept of recovery through a variety of means. This has included the Co-production revolution, the rapid expansion of Recovery Colleges and the involvement of ‘Experts by Experience’ who are people who have used or cared for someone who has used health and/or social care services.

In this session, Raf takes us on a brief journey through psychiatric history, the rise of ‘the recovery model’ and reflects on his own recovery journey as a former service user. A short-film on Raf’s upbringing details his involvement in gangs and eventual incarceration into young offenders’ institutions and forensic psychiatric units which brings to light the inequalities and cultural impact of mental health issues within urban communities. His inspiring transformation post-discharge sees him detail how he worked his way up to a board level position in one of the largest private care groups in the United Kingdom within the space of a year all whilst losing half of his body weight and despite no formal education, being accepted onto a Master’s Programme in Mental Health Recovery and Social Inclusion. The audience is left to reflect on whether this story of hope and perseverance is a mirage in a broken system or that far from being a fantasy, recovery is possible with right ingredients.


Raf’s role as an Expert by Experience sees him using his perspective as a former service user in a variety of organizations within the public, Independent and regulatory sectors including NICE (National Institute of Health and Care Excellence), Royal College of Psychiatrists and the National Health Service which has also seen him consult government within the UK and internationally.

He is currently the Expert by Experience Lead with Cygnet Healthcare and an Expert by Experience with the Care Quality Commission. His experience of working on both a strategic and local level within Cygnet Healthcare has been recognized as ‘an area of outstanding practice’ by the Care Quality Commission and a number of other external and independent organizations.

Awarded the ‘special recognition award’ for two years running, Raf has personally mentored over 100 mental health service users into becoming experts by experience. Raf was one of 12 chairs on the Independent Review of the Mental Health Act commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care. He is now currently studying an MSc in Mental Health Recovery and Social Inclusion at the University of Hertfordshire.