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Capturing the life stories of people living with psychosis

By Gary Coyle

For over two years I have been working as a peer researcher on the Early Intervention into Psychosis Life Stories Project. We are now nearing completion of the research. There is a great deal of satisfaction with a job well done but a little sadness that something I have enjoyed so much is coming to an end. It has been interesting meeting people facing some of the same ordeals which the other peer researchers and myself have experienced in our own lives. The interviewees shared many of their practical and emotional experiences of developing and living with psychosis. One theme which particularly connected with my own life experience was the positive belief that a great change was about to occur just before being sectioned; for example: believing someone I had not seen for a long time was about to visit.

We are developing a number of outputs including written reports, podcasts or films and an online portal or exhibition aimed towards a wide audience including the public, service users, carers and professionals working in mental health. We are going to present these around the middle of 2019. Art and film appeared to be the best way forward. We had considered theatre but felt this would only attract a narrow audience. The aim is to reach out to a wide variety of people to start a conversation about some of the realities of psychosis in a way that is engaging. We hope it will reduce stigma by showing that many of the problems that contribute to mental ill health are everyday practical issues which are experienced by many.

Each of the life stories of the people we interviewed were unique, and the interviews revealed complex and very human stories. However, there were some recurring themes. In order to try to understand these themes across this complex set of stories, we decided to make collages. We searched through a wide variety of magazines to find images or words that connect with some of the problems the people we had interviewed had faced, for example, insecure housing and homelessness. The researchers and I worked as a team with the aim of doing justice to the information we had collected. The headlines and pictures in the magazines we looked through connected in an almost synchronised way. It has been an exciting, productive and very different approach to what usually happens with research projects. We intend to use the collages as part of the exhibition. The visual impact of these works is both strong and effective and they can get the messages across better than a straightforward explanation.

If we can reduce the fear and misunderstandings about mental ill health this will improve communication between people with mental health problems and those without a diagnosis. I have been fortunate enough to work with the other staff at McPin on this project, learning from their expertise. Helping me to become a more proficient interviewer, doing analysis and writing reports.

I am looking forward to meeting the people who took part in the interviews when we come together to start work on their stories using art and film. When there is so much misunderstanding attached to mental ill health, this artistic output aims to put across both the positive and negative experiences of living with or caring for a person with psychosis. We aim to avoid the strict theoretical analysis of psychiatric illness which the medical profession often adheres to. Our aim is to improve services and help the public better understand what it is really like to experience psychosis.