Stories of Madness: Exploring Resistance, Conformity, Resiliency, Agency, and Disengagement in Mental Health Narratives

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Johnston, Matthew




Old and present mental health systems tend to emphasize mental health service users as passive recipients of psychiatric care, which suppresses the idea that people who experience serious mental illness are able to comprehend their own sickness and recovery and therefore engage psychiatric experts about their care. This dissertation seriously interrogates the ways in which those who experience serious mental illness become agential, resist some of the control mechanisms, relationships of power, and infantilizing rituals found within the Canadian mental health system, and survive abject circumstances. Drawing on my own autoethnographic experiences with psychosis and psychiatric hospitalization, as well as 10 interviews with mental health service users, I argue that narrative approaches to inquiry and a post-anarchist praxis can reveal and liberate our agential capacities to recover and live through madness that otherwise become less known through biomedical approaches to mental health research. I identify some of the porous boundaries between the livable and unlivable forms of madness, and explore the complex relationships between service users and their caregivers whose penultimate goal is to help us live a manageable life. I conclude by discussing the contributions of this dissertation and reflect on some of the practical needs of the current mental health system.


Public and Social Welfare




Carleton University

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Theses and Dissertations

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