Exploring the discourse of mental illness and employment.
Thesis DisciplineHuman Services
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
Within this research I examined the discourse of mental illness and the discourse of work impacting the experience of individuals with mental illness in New Zealand, particularly in the workplace. Discourse was analysed to provide an understanding of the current social strategies and social responses to mental illness, with a focus on specifically how mental illness is responded to within the workplace. Foucauldian discourse analysis, specifically a Foucauldian archaeological and genealogical approach, was used to examine the statements and discursive formations present within participant intervews and the documents analysed. Using Foucauldian discourse analysis, I mapped discourse embedded within mental health services, supported employment services, and workplaces. Alongside this, I examined how discourse constructs subject identities, particularly focusing on how participants with experience of mental illness constructed their subject identities, and how this impacts their engagement and participation in the workplace. Nine participants with diverse subject identities and roles were interviewed for this research, including a total of five participants with experience of mental illness, two of whom also worked in mental health services, and a further two participants working in supported employment services, and two participants working in management and human resources. Documents were also analysed, particularly media items and social service websites, to gain a broad perspective on the discourse embedded within New Zealand social services, particularly mental health services and supported employment services.
Through analysis of data, I identified that mental illness is often constructed as an individualised experience, which has meant that service strategies and responses to mental illness also tend to offer individualised support and care. Constructing mental illness as an individualised experience has meant that collective, systemic responses to mental illness are absent, or not well developed. This is particularly critical in work settings where there is still a lack of appropriate attention to the rights of individuals with mental ilness and their needs are still not adequately recognised, discussed, and accommodated . The development of a collective identity and collective understanding of mental illness, similar to that reflected in disability discourse, may better enable people with mental illness to challenge systemic discrimination.