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Illness identity refers to the interpretation of having mental illness in persons who regard themselves as mentally ill. Illness identity can impact people diagnosed with mental illness negatively. However, little is known about the background of illness identity. This study aimed to investigate the process whereby mental health service users accept their diagnosis and develop an illness identity and to compare the processes between schizophrenia and depression. Twenty persons with schizophrenia and depression were interviewed, and the data were analysed using grounded theory approach. The major findings were as follows: i) while those with schizophrenia were shocked by their diagnosis and took time to accept it, this was not true for those with depression; ii) for participants with depression, it was relatively easy to accept their diagnosis, as they thought that depression was a normal illness; participants with schizophrenia needed to learn about their illness, know the efficacy of psychiatric medication and reduce their prejudice against mental illness to accept their diagnosis; and iii) participants’ illness identity encompassed sickness and normality with sickness being related to taking psychiatric medication and normality being associated with having regular work, acting as other people do or living in the community. These findings suggest the influence of social attitudes to each illness on illness identity and the complex nature of illness identity.
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