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“It’s Part of Who I Am, But Not Really Who I Am”: Mental Illness Identity Deflection Among Those With Serious Mental Illness

Creative Commons 'BY-NC-ND' version 4.0 license

Although many clinicians believe serious mental illnesses are incurable, research shows that individuals with these diagnoses undergo a complex and multidimensional recovery that often encompasses a change in self-concept and identity. Drawing on this recovery-oriented approach, some individuals diagnosed with serious mental illness undergo mental illness identity deflection (MIID)—a process whereby the label of “mentally ill” or “mental patient” is relegated to a position of lower importance in one’s overall identity (e.g., the disorder is “only part of me—it doesn’t define who I really am”). Such a process has been conceptualized as a cognitive form of resistance to the stigma attached to mental illness. I show how particular sociocultural resources one can draw upon during recovery allow MIID to become possible for individuals with serious mental illness, and what consequences it has for their overall recovery. In this qualitative study, I draw on interviews (N = 15) with individuals formally diagnosed with serious mental illness to examine which sociocultural resources enhance one’s recovery through the initiation and maintenance of MIID, and what effect this may have for one’s recovery from serious mental illness. The findings show that the majority of interviewees engage in MIID, and the sociocultural resources that make MIID possible have positive consequences for recovery.

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