Navigating the mental health system: Narratives of identity and recovery among people with psychosis across ethnic groups.

01 May 2021
Lawrence V, McCombie C, Nikolakopoulos G, Morgan C

There is consistent evidence that members of the black Caribbean population in the UK are more likely to have coercive relationships with mental health services, typified by high levels of police involvement and compulsory treatment. This research has relied upon a medical epidemiological framework that has enumerated differences in service use but failed to unravel the complex interplay of individual, social, and cultural factors that inform the pathway to care. The purpose of this study was to explore the journey through mental health services from the perspective of individuals from the black Caribbean and majority white British population to help understand variation in the use of mental health services. Individual interviews were conducted with 17 black Caribbean, 15 white British, and 3 non-British white people with psychosis as part of AESOP-10, a 10 year follow up of an ethnically diverse cohort of individuals with first episode psychosis in the UK. Thematic narrative analysis identified three overarching narrative categories: 'losing self within the system' narratives gave primacy to individuals' identity as a chronic psychiatric patient with participants unable to break the cycle of service use; 'steadying self through the system' narratives combined recognition of the value of psychiatry and its limitations with the ability to access psychological therapy and protect valued social roles; 'finding strength beyond the system' narratives challenged negative dominant discourses and emphasised social, interpersonal and intrapersonal factors in recovery. We found variation in narratives across ethnic groups with 'losing self within the system' and 'finding strength beyond the system' narratives most common, though not exclusive to, black Caribbean participants. Distress appeared rooted in social structures that disadvantage black people, and psychiatry appeared to be experienced as a further form of oppression, that initially provoked resistance and fear, and over time, resignation to the identity of psychiatric patient.