Insiders or outsiders? Mental health service users' journeys towards full citizenship

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Abstract

The present study explores the journeys towards full citizenship for those using mental health services as they lobbied to be included as full citizens with the same rights and responsibilities as others in society. Qualitative data were collected through semistructured interviews with 17 service users, five government representatives, and seven registered mental health nurses. A conceptual framework of citizenship containing four domains – the extent, content, depth and acts of citizenship – was used to analyse the data. This paper reports the findings from the service users' data in the first domain, the extent of citizenship, defined as the rules and norms of inclusion and exclusion. The degree to which the service user participants were accepted as full citizens with the same civil, political, and social rights as others was contingent on their ability to adopt their society's rules and norms and appear as ‘normal’ citizens. Participants often experienced being ‘othered’ and excluded from the many rights and responsibilities of citizenship due to society's perception that service users lack certain attributes of normal, productive citizens. Participants reported that being labelled with a mental illness led to them being marginalized and ostracized, thus placing conditions and barriers on their citizenship status. Findings show that in response to experiencing conditional citizenship, participants shaped their behaviour to assimilate with other citizens. As well, they engaged in practices of inclusion to challenge and broaden the social rules and norms in order to be accepted without disavowing their differences.

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