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On being a girlfriend not a patient: The quest for an acceptable identity amongst people diagnosed with a severe mental illness

By Rachel Forrester-Jones and Anna Barnes


Background: Whilst the ways in which mental illness influences personhood have been documented, how social support can forge a more positive identity has not been explored. Aims: Using Goffman's theories of stigma the aim of this paper is to report on a qualitative study of how 17 people diagnosed with a severe mental illness received and provided social support in order to forge and manage a less stigmatizing identity than that of "being sick". Courtesy-stigma as an issue for those trying to live "ordinary" lives is highlighted. Method: Qualitative research methods were used including unstructured open-ended interviews. Results: Individuals reported that social support could be helpful in terms of developing a more "acceptable" identity, which enabled some degree of social integration into mainstream life. On the other hand, people who managed to "escape" from lives defined by their mental health status, sometimes found life on the outside stressful and rejecting. This led to some seeking refuge in the mental health community again. Conclusion: Social support plays a vital role in the construction of a more valuable identity than that of patient.(1) Declaration of interest: The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health sponsored the research

Topics: BF
Year: 2008
OAI identifier: oai:kar.kent.ac.uk:15081
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