SHARING PERSONAL EXPERIENCES OF MENTAL ILLNESS: A NARRATIVE EXPLORATION OF BEING AND BECOMING PEER SUPPORT WORKERS IN A MENTAL HEALTH SERVICE
Background: Peer support (PS) arose alongside the recovery movement in efforts to reform medically-focused mental health services (MHS) towards services that valued a life beyond illness (Mead et al. 2001; Moran et al. 2014). Formalised PS in MHS, where individuals are hired to share their recovery experiences while supporting others with mental illnesses (MI), are proposed in policy as a component of recovery-oriented practice (ROP) (Le Boutillier et al. 2011; Smith and Bradstreet 2011; Scottish Government 2012). However, a more comprehensive understanding of the recovery processes allowing individuals to occupy these roles is needed, forming the aim of the literature review. Literature Review Findings: Four inter-related themes emerged: from personal crisis to personal growth, understanding one’s self amongst one’s illness, external supports, and continuity of recovery story in the role. Significant findings were that previous recovery processes were re-experienced in the PS role, confirming recovery as a non-linear construct. Additionally, peer support workers (PSWs) were highly influenced by their environment and by societal and institutional perceptions. Research Proposal: A narrative methodology was proposed to uncover how individuals ascribed meaning to their experiences as PSWs. As narrative methodologies place emphasis on time, a longitudinal design was proposed. Two cohorts of PSWs (one newly hired, and one more experienced) would be interviewed over 3 sessions (at 0 months, 1 month, and 12 months) to analyse how time and context contributes to an individual’s understanding of their recovery experience. A life histories, narrative inquiry strategy would inform data analysis. Conclusions: Recovery from illness was suggested to be an inter-dependent, fluid, and environmentally bound concept. Accordingly, critical narrative methodologies and a transactional perspective on occupation allow the individual nuances of the PSW’s experience to be located in larger societal discourses regarding the treatment of individuals with MI.