chapter  5
21 Pages

Challenging a ‘spoiled identity’: mental health service users, recognition and redistribution

ByIain Ferguson

For close to two decades, notions of identity and difference have provided the primary bases of organisation and mobilisation for those wishing to challenge injustices and inequalities within Western capitalist societies (Woodward 1997). The growth of identity-based movements during this period can be seen as a product of the widespread disillusionment of the ‘Children of ’68’ with the class-based movements to challenge successfully the citadels of capital during the 1960s and 1970s (Harman 1988). The emergence of new movements during the 1980s and 1990s around issues such as sexuality or disability can also be seen more positively, however, as products of what has been called ‘the radicalised Enlightenment’:

This chapter will seek to assess the usefulness of notions of identity and difference in understanding the experience of one of these new movements – the mental health service users’ movement (Rogers and Pilgrim 1991). The chapter is largely based on individual interviews and group discussions with a total of eighty mental health service users and twenty workers in fourteen community-based mental health projects across Central Scotland during 1997 and 1998 (Ferguson 1999, from now on referred to as ‘the Scottish research’). The majority of those interviewed were involved in the management and development of the organisations to which they belonged, usually as secretaries, chairpersons or committee members, in some cases at a national level. In that sense, they formed part of the ‘cadre’ of the mental health users’ movement in Scotland. All had extensive experience of the mental health system, with more than 75 per cent having been hospitalised at some point and just under half having been given a diagnosis of schizophrenia or manic depression. The aim of the interviews was to explore the identities of mental health service users.