"Rip that whole book up - I've changed" : life and work narratives of mental illness
Women with enduring mental illness are little considered in research and there is a dearth of occupational therapy literature concerning mental illness, although a third of therapists work in this speciality. This study explored two groups of women within a Scottish context. Phase One involved five women who lived with enduring mental illness, and Phase Two included sixteen occupational therapists who worked in mental health settings with similar women. Qualitative methodology, specifically, life history and focus group interviews, were used to give voice to the women's life and therapists' work experiences. The data from the women's life history interviews was analysed using narrative analysis. This produced a unique, powerful narrative for each illustrating their complex, individualised experiences, allowing insight into and understanding of effects within their lives. This data was then analysed using constant comparative analysis. Six themes portrayed their lives. The findi ngs highlighted the women's experiences as victims and importantly, as agents for themselves and others. Related to their personal agency was the need for future goals and hopes to be recognised and nurtured by health professionals. Furthermore, the significance of the women's experiences along the continuum of motherhood adds to our understanding of the long-term impact of continuing mental illness on women, their children and families. Overall, the women identified that they were experts in their own lives. The focus group material was also subjected to constant comparative analysis. Five themes encapsulated the processes that underpinned therapists' interventions and the inter-dependency of their actions within specific work contexts. Comparison across the two groups of women revealed three common issues: their need for safe environments, their feelings of powerlessness and the importance of being heard. These findings have implications for occupational therapy practice and research specifically as well as conveying important lessons to other professionals.