Storytelling: An act of resistance or a commodity?
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O'Donnell, A., Sapouna, L. and Brosnan, L. (2019) 'Storytelling: An act of resistance or a commodity?', Journal of Ethics in Mental Health, 10.
Telling our own stories of our experiences of distress and madness, of oppression and treatment, of survival and resistance, is a source of power for people who use or are forced to use mental health services. Storytelling has created a space for people, whose voices have been traditionally silenced, to be heard, affirmed, and to organise into collective action. However, recent trends suggest that these stories are becoming a commodity with mental health organisations and educational institutions using them primarily to promote their own agendas. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to disempower and to humanise. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity. (Adichie, 2009) We three women are activists (survivors, researchers, and educators) and, drawing from our experiences in the Scottish and Irish contexts, we discuss the need to constantly problematise what has been achieved through the user movement. We are frustrated because people who share their stories remain disadvantaged, often unpaid, unequal partners while organisations, professionals, and academics benefit through receiving funding and building a career path on the basis of user involvement. While this is an unsettling position, we believe that we can make the best of it by being critical rather than cynical, by staying hopeful and engaged with the constantly changing demands of activism.