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Telling the whole story: a conceptual model for analysing the mental illness memoir

Maureen Donohue‐Smith (Associate Professor of Human Services at Elmira College, Elmira, New York, USA)

Mental Health Review Journal

ISSN: 1361-9322

Article publication date: 16 September 2011




This paper seeks to describe the advantages and limitations of using the mental illness memoir to teach future health care providers about mental illness.


A review of the challenges to reconstructing the mental illness experience is followed by “caveats and considerations” in employing the mental illness memoir to teach prospective health care providers about mental illness. The importance of examining the way the many factors that shape the mental illness narrative is emphasised.


While mental illness memoirs can be effective vehicles for educating students about mental illness, they may be even more valuable when accompanied by a careful examination of the factors that may have affected the construction of the narrative itself. An ecologically‐based conceptual model is proposed as a framework for systematic analysis of the mental illness memoir. A checklist of factors to employ in the analysis (inventory of influences on the mental illness narrative) is also included.

Practical implications

To use the mental illness memoir effectively as a pedagogical strategy in clinical education, one needs a strategy for organising and interpreting the characteristics of both clients and their contexts.


This model and the accompanying checklist incorporate a broad range of both individual and contextual factors that affect the stories individuals construct about their mental illness. The model can serve as a framework for analysis of an individual memoir and may also suggest specific avenues for further research across multiple accounts or the genre itself.



Donohue‐Smith, M. (2011), "Telling the whole story: a conceptual model for analysing the mental illness memoir", Mental Health Review Journal, Vol. 16 No. 3, pp. 138-146.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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