What is mental illness?: social representations of mental illness among British and French mental health professionals.
Papers on social representations, 4
Mental health professionals are important actors in implementing public mental health policies and in shaping lay representations of mental illness. The research reported in this paper focuses on the social representations of mental illness held by these professionals in Britain and France. In interviews conducted with sixty mental health workers from a range of professional backgrounds the definition of mental illness emerged as a key concern. Evidence for two social representations of mental illness is found - a medical social representation based on the language and assumptions of psychiatry, and a functional social representation which conceptualises mental illness as an inability to cope and function. Within these representations themes of otherness coexist with themes of sameness. The mentally ill are Other because of their different and un-understandable experiences. Simultaneously mental illness is also described as similar to other experiences. Often professionals use these themes to distinguish between psychoses (primarily otherness) and neuroses (primarily sameness). No single understanding of mental illness is dominant. Professional social representations of mental illness appear to be complex and characterised by uncertainty and ambivalence.
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