Discussing mental health difficulties in a “diagnosis free zone”

Elina Weiste, Melisa Stevanovic, Taina Valkeapää, Kaisa Valkiaranta, Camilla Lindholm

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Being identified as “mentally ill” is a complicated social process that may be stigmatizing and socially problematic, as a mental illness diagnosis determines the criteria for what is considered normal. This has given rise to a number of anti-stigma campaigns designed to create awareness of the way stigmas affect people with mental health difficulties and to normalize those difficulties in society. One such campaign is the “diagnosis-free zone”, which declares that those with mental health difficulties should not be categorized on the basis of their diagnosis; rather, they should be encountered as full individuals. In this paper, we investigate how mental health difficulties are discussed in Clubhouse communities, which adhere to the “diagnosis free zone” programme. The findings are based on conversation analysis of 29 video-recorded rehabilitation group meetings, in one Finnish Clubhouse, intended to advance clients' return to the labour market. The analysis demonstrated that members referred to their mental health difficulties to explain the misfortunes in their lives, especially interruptions and stoppages in their careers. By contrast, staff members disattended members’ explanations and normalized their situations as typical of all humans and thus unrelated to their mental health difficulties as such. In this way, the discussion of mental health difficulties at the Clubhouse meetings was implicitly discouraged. We propose that the standards of normality expected of a person not suffering from a mental health difficulty may well be different from the expectations levelled at participants with a history of mental problems. Therefore, instead of considering cultural expectations of normality to be a unified domain, effective anti-stigma work might sometimes benefit from referring to mental-health diagnoses as a means of explicitly tailoring expectations of normality.
Original languageEnglish
Article number114364
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

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