Consumer perspectives of recovery from the effects of a severe mental illness: a grounded theory study

Tony Henderson

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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    Interest in the ability of people to recover from a severe mental illness has a long history. During the 1980s, however, there was a paradigm shift away research driven by clinicians immersed in the quantitative, objective microcosm of anatomy and physiology towards understanding recovery from a consumer perspective. Even so the experiences of consumers has remained relatively unexplored, with the lion's share of research emanating from the United States of America. At the time of writing the proposal for this study in 2000, there was not even one Australian study of a mental health consumer perspective of recovery from severe mental illness reported in the literature. The principal aim of conducting this research was to address this need. The author, therefore, undertook this grounded theory study to: (a) explore what recovery from the effects of a severe mental illness meant to the consumers in Western Australia; (b) identify what consumers of mental health services in Western Australia wanted in their lives; and thus (c) develop a substantive theory of recovery. Fifteen participants diagnosed with either an affective disorder or schizophrenia were each interviewed and the resultant data were analysed using the constant comparative method. Comparative analysis is a long-held method of analysing data in sociology. Analysis is achieved by asking questions such as what, when, where, how, of the data and comparing similarities and differences with the various concepts within and across sets of data. The findings revealed that the basic social psychological problem (BSPP) for participants was LOSS. In order to address this problem, participants engaged in the basic social process (BSP) of OVERCOMING LOSS. The BSP is a title given to the central theme that emerges from the data and illustrates that a social process occurs overtime. The BSP emerged as a process comprising three phases: First Recuperation, second Moving Forward and third Getting Back. The analysis further revealed that the participants viewed recovery as either "incomplete" or "complete". That is, for them complete clinical recovery was not possible - "incomplete" but they could recover completely in a social context. It also identified that what they wanted most in their lives was peace of mind and to live without fearing a relapse. All participants explained overcoming their losses and getting back by developing an "at-risk" role and using their individual personal strategies of reframing and pacing. Furthermore they identified reciprocal relationships and positive social support as being essential to facilitating their recovery. Together, the BSP of OVERCOMING LOSS and the strategies described by the participants form the substantive theory of recovery. Consequently the findings both support and extend existing scientific knowledge regarding recovery from the effects of a severe mental illness. The results of this study are relevant to people working with persons who experience the effects of a severe mental illness, particularly those who work in the field of psychiatric rehabilitation. The findings also have implications for policy makers, curriculum developers of undergraduate and postgraduate courses in, health, behavioural and social sciences and researchers.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Publication statusUnpublished - 2007


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