Career, Interrupted?: Psychiatric illness and Women's Career Development in Aotearoa/New Zealand
Thesis DisciplineHealth Sciences
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis explores the experiences of a group of women in Aotearoa/New Zealand who have been diagnosed with a psychiatric illness, with the aim of gaining some understanding about how they negotiate issues around diagnosis, recovery and resilience-development and employment.
A qualitative methodology was used to encourage the women to relate their vocational and life experiences. Fifteen women, whose ages ranged from 17 to their late 60s, with a range of psychiatric diagnoses, were interviewed across ten months. One woman identified as having Māori ancestry and several identified as lesbian. Each interview, which was semi-structured, was transcribed and then verified by the women, and all data were analysed using thematic content analysis and symbolic interactionist and discourse/narrative analyses. Salient issues provided a focus for later interviews and generated theory. The thesis is organised according to major themes that were generated from the data: ‘Getting unwell and getting help,’ ‘Getting well’ and ‘Getting back to work.’ Within these broad themes, key ideas emerged around the women’s views on the difference between ‘madness’ and ‘mental illness’, the biological basis for mental distress, the impact of labelling, the importance of having a ‘literacy’ around psychiatric illness that helps foster agency, the importance of workplace accommodations and mentors in vocational settings, and the process of renegotiating vocational identity when one has a psychiatric illness.
Data analysis revealed how participants make ‘sense’ of their psychiatric ill health and recovery/resilience-development experiences, create a vocational self-concept and view themselves as social beings in the current socio-political and cultural context of being New Zealanders. The women’s narratives exhibited negligible explicit gender role identification and the present research uncovered very little explicit data relevant to lesbian and bisexual women’s lives, apart from data on sexual identity disclosure. Rather the women spoke as members of a group that accepted Western diagnoses and used various strategies to reclaim what had been lost and grow new social and vocational roles.
The thesis, therefore, provides a platform for understanding the experiences of women living with psychiatric illness in Aotearoa/New Zealand. It provides new information on service-users’ views of medical models of psychiatric illness and the efficacy of their alliances with mental health professionals. It also provides evidence of the needs women have for gaining and maintaining employment after diagnosis with psychiatric illness.