Understanding the experience of place: Expanding methods to conceptualize and measure community integration of persons with serious mental illness

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Abstract

Community integration research explores community contexts and factors that encourage or hinder individuals with serious mental illness (SMI) from actively participating in community life. This research agenda can be advanced by using mixed-methods that better document the relationships between contextual factors and individual experience. Two such methods were applied to a mixed-methods study of 40 adults with SMI living in independent housing in the Southeastern United States. Their contextualized experiences of community integration were measured by applying innovative participatory mapping and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping techniques. Use of these methods in conjunction with one another facilitated the creation of activity spaces, which can measure geographic accessibility and help to represent an individual's experience of place and degree of mobility. The utility of these newly applied methods for better understanding community integration for persons with SMI is explored and implications for using these measures in research and practice are discussed.

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