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Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2008 Jun;42(6):489-95. doi: 10.1080/00048670802050579.

'Stealing me from myself': identity and recovery in personal accounts of mental illness.

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Columbia University, Department of Psychiatry, New York, NY 10032, USA.



To understand and promote recovery from serious mental illnesses, it is important to study the perspectives of individuals who are coping with mental health problems. The aim of the present study was to examine identity-related themes in published self-narratives of family members and individuals with serious mental illness. It adds to the body of research addressing how identity affects the process of recovery and identifies potential opportunities for using published narratives to support individuals as they move toward positive identities that facilitate recovery.


Forty-five personal accounts from individuals with severe mental illness, which were published in two prominent research journals between 1998 and 2003, were qualitatively analysed.


Individuals with mental illness and their family members described a loss of self and identity that had to be overcome, or at least managed, for recovery to become possible. Writers described (i) a loss of self, (ii) the duality of (ill/well) selves, (iii) perceptions of normality, (iv) specific concerns about parenting and identity, and (v) hope and reconciliation.


Individuals' stories of their experiences of severe mental illness describe severe challenges managing identity. Efforts to publish personal accounts that focus on strengths-based patient-centred stories, rather than on deficits, could be helpful to provide hope for patients. These published narratives highlight the importance of moving recovery and hope to the forefront among patient, family, and clinician groups. Increasing such information and role models can provide important resources to individuals working to redefine themselves and create a sense of self-worth and stable identity that will support productive, happy lives.

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