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”Storying mental illness”: In-depth analyses of life stories from 140 individuals with mental illness

The Carlsberg Foundation 'Semper Ardens' Monographs

What

My monograph will seek insights into how individuals with mental illness experience the consequences of their illness and what helped them in gaining a life that they value. Individuals create meaning and identity through storying events, by linking events together over time to understand causes and consequences. Through this process, they extract information about who they are and how events affected them. Through examining life stories of individuals with mental illness, I will obtain deeply subjective, experience-near knowledge about how individuals understand the long-term consequences of living with mental illness. What did mental illness do to their identity and their lives? Was anything helpful in gaining value and meaning in life and if yes, what helped?

Why

Mental illness affects many individuals each year, both those who themselves suffer from mental illness and their close others. Much research focuses on understanding the etiology of mental illness and how to treat symptoms of mental illness, but etiology and symptoms are only part of the picture in understanding mental illness. Knowledge about how individuals with mental illness experience the consequences of living with mental illness and how they may gain a life that they value is much needed. Such knowledge can help us develop interventions that help individuals recover from their mental illness by supporting them in finding new sources of identity, value and meaning in life to counter the losses they have suffered as a consequence of their mental illness.

How

With my colleagues, I have collected life stories from 140 individuals with schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, depression, and bipolar disorder. I will conduct in-depth analyses of the life stories to extract themes relating to my two main questions: 1) What did mental illness do to their identity and their lives? and 2) Was anything helpful in gaining value and meaning in life and if yes, what helped?. The themes will be presented using extensive quotes from our participants. Based on the findings, I will develop systematic guides to assessing consequences of living with mental illness and factors that could be helpful in gaining a life that is valued. The guidelines will provide health care professionals and researchers with tools to examine and facilitate recovery.

SSR

Living with a mental illness is associated with a range of costs spanning from well-being and identity problems to lower education level and increased mortality. The monograph may help address the societal challenge of mental illness by letting readers who themselves are afflicted by mental illness gain the sense that the challenges they experience are shared by others and that others may have tried and found ways to cope with these challenges. Hopefully, the insights from my monograph will push treatment efforts to focus more on addressing subjectively experienced negative consequences of living with mental illness and possible ways to cope with these thus assisting recovery.