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Towards A Social Model Of Madness And Distress: Reporting the findings from a new user controlled research study of service users' views

Peter Beresford, Centre for Citizen Participation, Brunel University
o-author(s): Mary Nettle


While a mental health service user/survivor movement has developed both in the UK and internationally, as yet it has not developed an equivalent of the social model of disability. There have also been concerns among disability theorists that the social model of disability has not been adequately developed to include mental health service users/survivors or indeed people with learning difficulties. There is no clear philosophy unifying survivor organisations or movement in the same way that the social model of disability and the philosophy of independent living have been drivers for the disabled people's movement and disabled people's liberation. Instead mental health service users have tended to sign up to vaguer values and objectives of speaking and acting on their own behalf and challenging the stigma and legal restrictions on their rights that they experience. Mental health service users face real problems influencing policy and practice in a context of increasing provisions to restrict their rights. It is not clear whether all reject an individual medicalised model of their experience, although many report its negative effects and some activists have adopted the individualised 'recovery' model imported from the USA.

Yet this is a time in UK policy when the social model and independent living philosophy are gaining increasing currency in government policy and rhetoric. The aim of this paper, drawing on the findings of a new national user controlled research project, supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and carried out by the proposers, will be to explore what mental health service users, including those who also identify as having physical and sensory impairments and learning difficulties have to say about the idea of a 'social model of madness and distress' drawing on a social model of disability. It will also explore their own understandings of mental health issues, their views of public and professional understandings and of the social model of disability. The paper is proposed by Peter Beresford and Mary Nettle, both survivor activists and researchers and Rebecca Perring, a non-disabled researcher, all of whom undertook the project on which the paper is based.

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