Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

The Lived Experience of Everyday Activity for Individuals with Severe Mental Illness

Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

The Lived Experience of Everyday Activity for Individuals with Severe Mental Illness

Article excerpt

Introduction

The overwhelming impact of mental illness on everyday life has only recently become evident with over 450 million individuals worldwide experiencing a mental health problem (World Health Organisation, 2001). In Australia approximately 3% of adult Australians experience some form of severe mental health illness (SMI) as judged by the type of illness, intensity of symptoms, length of illness and the degree of disability caused (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2008). The international classification of functioning, disability and health (ICF) (World Health Organisation, 2001), considers that the health of individuals is influenced by their participation in activities within life situations. Participation, however, fails to capture the complexity and meaning of activity or reflect the variable nature of an individual's everyday life (Hemmingson & Jonnson 2005).

The aim of this article is to explore the lived experiences of individuals diagnosed with an SMI; specifically, the types of activities that constitute the individual's everyday and the meanings individuals take from these activities in relation to their mental illness. Engaging in daily activities and everyday life have been recognized as a way of providing meaning and a sense of personal agency for individuals diagnosed with an SMI (Borg & Davidson, 2008). Eleven individuals with a lived experience of SMI, living in the community, were interviewed over a 12-month period to paint a portrait of their 'everyday' activities. Topics covered included everyday activities individ-uals found helpful or obstructive with regards to their mental illness. Australian research and service delivery on early intervention and prevention of mental illness (Mcgorry et al., 2009) has tended to direct attention away from the lived experiences of individuals diagnosed with SMI. The researcher chose to focus on the experiences of individuals diagnosed with SMI because limited research has been conducted with this group (Good, 2001), especially in Australia. A greater understanding of the everyday activities and experiences of individuals with SMI may lead to better health and service delivery outcomes for this vulnerable group of people.

Embodiment of severe mental illness in everyday life

Severe mental illness historically is viewed as a chronic health condition, impacting on an individual's ability to function within the community (Zolnierek, 2011). The experience and diagnosis of an SMI impacts an individual's identity and how he or she may embody mental illness (Kirkpatrick, Landeen, Woodside, & Bryne, 2001; Williams, 2000b). Yanos, Roe, and Lysaker (2010,p.2)defines illness identity as a 'set of roles and attitudes that a person has developed in relation to understanding the mental illness'. Previous studies have investigated the lived experience and meaning of SMI with findings suggesting themes of alienation from the self and others (Nystrom & Nystrom, 2007).

The meaning of mental illness is complex and may be understood from philosophical, sociological and cultural perspectives. One such way of attempting to explain meaning is through the philosophical concept of embodiment. Embodiment is a form of phenomenological philosophy developed by Merleau-Ponty (2002). The lived experience is understood through 'meanings, expectations, styles, and habits that are articulated and experienced in and through the lived body' (McCann & Clark, 2004, p. 784). For Merleau-Ponty, an individual's experience of a health condition (e.g., the symptom of hearing voices as categorized according to the diagnosis of schizophrenia) may differ significantly from another individual with the same diagnosis despite, from a clinical perspective, appearing to be of equal intensity.

The embodied everyday of an individual who experiences an SMI may then be substantially different from other individuals experiencing the same illness. Likewise, any notions of reality where everyday activities fall within what society agrees is 'normal' or 'everyday' must also be critically deconstructed. …

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