Participatory action research: moving beyond the mental health ‘service user’ identity

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Abstract

Contemporary models of involvement within statutory services pay little regard to the identity of individuals beyond the ‘service user’ label and in doing so unwittingly perpetuate and sustain the negative impact of mental illness. The aim of this paper is to discuss the process of a 3-year participatory action research study facilitated by a mental health nurse. It highlights the perspective of those involved as co-researchers, all having experience of accessing statutory mental health services. It identifies both the process and the impact of this type of involvement on them illustrating their move beyond an illness identity. The study involved them undertaking a series of interviews with other service users in relation to their life stories. They subsequently mapped and analysed the transcripts. In order that the people were enabled to undertake these roles the study included a process of interviewing and appointing service user researchers followed by a programme of training workshops, supervision and discussion group/peer support. The accounts provided reflect the six researchers' attempts to make sense of their experience and reveal the path of transformation through collaboration.

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