Title page for ETD etd-08052008-131715

Document Type Master's Dissertation
Author Morkel, Marissa
URN etd-08052008-131715
Document Title Madness as mental illness or mental illness as madness : mental illness as constructed by young professionals
Degree Master of Arts
Department Psychology
Advisor Name Title
Ms A Pauw Supervisor
  • social constructionism
  • modernism
  • mental illness
  • madness
  • qualitative research discourse
Date 2008-04-14
Availability unrestricted

The aim of the study was to explore the constructions and meanings around madness/mental illness among a group of young professionals in order to broaden the dialogue around mental illness to include the voices of a certain section of the community. The current dialogue around mental illness is dominated by the view that madness/mental illness is the domain of scientifically trained professionals. The aim of the study was to explore the constructions of those not part of a mental health profession and those not suffering from mental illness and how these constructions may influence their behaviour towards those suffering from mental illness.

The epistemological framework of the study falls into a social constructionist perspective. This epistemological approach allows for the exploration of previously taken for granted truths. When adhering to this approach the function of research is to explore a particular version of reality in an embedded context and language seen as the structuring aspect of social reality. From this approach a discourse analysis was done using the transcripts of audiotaped interviews with the participants. The four participants chosen for the study fell into the 23-26 years age group brackets, had finished tertiary education and have started working on a professional career. None of the participants have had any formal contact with mental health services or professionals or those suffering from mental illness.

In the process of analysing the texts five discourses were identified and discussed. The first of these discourses was the scientific discourse around mental illness in which madness is constructed mostly as an illness with genetic, chemical or emotional causes. The knowledge and expertise of mental health professionals is seen as important to the general public as they seem to have little knowledge on the meaning of mental illness themselves. The second discourse that was identified was mental illness as the domain of professionals and mental institutions. Most of the respondents seemed comfortable with this idea and used distancing strategies in order to explain their non-involvement in the care of the mentally ill. Mental illness as individual experience was discussed next and in this discourse mental illness was seen as an exclusive experience to which few except the sufferer has access. The fourth discourse discussed was the mental illness as unknown discourse. In this discourse madness/mental illness, those suffering from it and the treatment thereof, is a mystery to those who are not part of these experiences. The final discourse discussed was the mental illness as bad discourse where those suffering from mental illness were constructed as dangerous, possibly violent, unpredictable and damaging.

During the analysis of the data it was found that the majority of the respondents used techniques to distance themselves from involvement of the mentally ill and ascribed to the discourse that madness/mental illness is the domain of mental health professionals only.

University of Pretoria 2007

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