Lived Experience Narrative as Practice: Describing the Work of Community Mental Health Activists/Advocates [2020]

Objective: We interviewed 25 community mental health activists/advocates in Manitoba, Canada, in order to better understand and document their work.

Research Design and Methods: The research project used two complementary methodologies: oral history and phenomenology. Participants were a convenience sample of individuals whose activism/advocacy was not restricted to a professional job or advocacy for one person. Each participant consented to a one-on-one audiotaped interview with a member of the research team. Eighteen of the 25 participants further consented to inclusion of their interview in the Oral History Centre at the University of Winnipeg (Canada); this data is part of the historical record and available for future research. The interview data from all 25 research participants were pooled for anonymous phenomenological thematic analysis.

Results: Five overarching themes were identified: lived experience, personal narrative as practice, system change, social justice, and direct service. These themes are connected: lived experience is translated into personal narrative as a form of practice used to achieve system change, social justice, and to provide direct service.

Conclusions: Not only is personal narrative a valid epistemology, personal narrative is a practice; it is used in unique, purposeful, and varied ways to carry out a wide range of activities for the social good. The results of this research cannot be generalized to other mental health activists/advocates in other geographic locations but can be built upon in future research to better understand the mechanisms and processes by which personal narrative is used within activist/advocacy practice.

Karen Clements, Stan Rossowski, Dana Naismith, Kristen A. Hardy, Debra Dusome
Journal of Recovery in Mental Health, 3(2), 2020