Narrative, ethics and people with severe mental illness

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Starting from the premise that people are essentially narrative beings, I argue that the onset of severe mental illness compromises the narrative enterprise of being able to construct one's Self and one's relationships in meaningful and coherent ways. This is due to both the curtailment of opportunities for narrative engagement and the dispossession of those whose narratives do not conform to the current conceptualization of narrative and narrativity. In these circumstances, supporting the narrative enterprise is an ethical endeavour that requires that we examine not only which narratives we construct, but also how we construct them. This requires a re-thinking of what might constitute narrative and how we might facilitate or enhance the narrativity of people with severe mental illness. Following this, I suggest four means to support the narrativity of people with severe mental illness: through maintaining narrative continuity, maintaining narrative agency, countering master narratives and attention to small stories.

Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 2005; 39:1022–1029

Keywords: dementia; ethics; mental disorder; narrative

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: November 1, 2005

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