Thursday, April 18, 2013

People with Mental Illness Define "Community" Their Own Way

That place where everybody knows your name is crucial for persons with serious mental illness. “The experience of having a serious mental illness shapes preferences for and perceptions of community in pervasive ways,” wrote Elizabeth Bromley, M.D., Ph.D., of the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles, in Psychiatric Services in Advance April 1. Bromley and colleagues conducted extensive interviews with 30 people with serious mental illness. Respondents named family, places of worship, neighborhoods, and mental health peers as “communities” to which they belonged.

A deeper analysis identified four “patterns of experience” that made up communities for the respondents. Communities were places where they could receive help, especially in times of vulnerability. Communities were also places to manage risk and minimize the anxiety they feel in public settings. The stigma experienced in the general community or even within their families led many respondents to identify more strongly with their mentally ill peers. Communities are also place where they could “give back” and help others.

“Rather than striving for normalcy per se, participants emphasize most often the need for reliable communities that provide consistent support and a safe haven,” concluded Bromley and colleagues.

To read about one long-standing mental health community, see Psychiatric News here.

(Image: Diego Cervo/


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