Empowerment encompasses the political, social and cultural action necessary for personal recovery so according a role not only to the individual, but to their communities as well. In its statement on user empowerment in mental health from 2010 the WHO Regional Office for Europe states that

“Empowerment needs to take place simultaneously at the population and the individual levels. Empowerment is a multidimensional social process through which individuals and groups gain better understanding and control over their lives. As a consequence, they are enabled to change their social and political environment to improve their health-related life circumstances.

Being included in the society in which one lives is vital to the material, psychosocial, and political empowerment that underpins social well-being and equitable health. As health is a fundamental human right, empowerment of patients and their families, friends or other informal carers is a societal task that encourages all communities, employers, trade unions, schools and colleges, voluntary organizations to respect health and well-being of individuals and populations and act in ways that empower individuals and groups to respect their own and other people’s rights to health and well-being.

At the individual level, empowerment is an important element of human development. It is the process of taking control and responsibility for actions that have the intent and potential to lead to fulfilment of capacity. This incorporates four dimensions:

  1. self-reliance
  2. participation in decisions
  3. dignity and respect
  4. belonging and contributing to a wider community.

For the individual, the empowerment process means overcoming a state of powerlessness and gaining control of one’s life. The process starts with individually defined needs and ambitions and focuses on the development of capacities and resources that support it. The empowerment of individuals is intended to help them adopt self-determination and autonomy, exert more influence on social and political decision-making processes and gain increased self-esteem.

Communities can support individuals in this process by establishing social networks and mobilizing social support; together, these promote cohesion between individuals and can support people through difficult transitions and periods of vulnerability in life.

The empowerment of communities comprises a higher degree of individual empowerment among the members of the community, a stronger sense of belonging to the community, development of and participation in political activities, leadership of decision-making process and access to resources for the benefit of the community.”

(WHO Regional Office for Europe, 2010)