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The familiar stranger of mental health

Matthew Sydney Long (Department of Sociology, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK)

The Journal of Mental Health Training, Education and Practice

ISSN: 1755-6228

Article publication date: 16 July 2020

Issue publication date: 16 July 2020




This paper aims to contribute to the debate about the closure of institutional mental health-care facilities, from an experiential perspective of a former mental health inpatient, ongoing service user and campaigner for retention of such facilities. It argues that auto-ethnographic accounts of mental illness by those with multiple social identities can have a greater role in terms of future training of mental health-care professionals.


The paper offers an experiential account of the impact of mental health facility bed closures as a patient admitted to institutional mental health facilities; as a mental health campaigner, fighting for the provision of both places of safety and “safe space” within his own local community; and as an ongoing service user. The research is in the interpretivist tradition of social science in taking an auto-ethnographical methodological stance.


This paper is underpinned by two key theoretical notions. Firstly, Stuart Hall’s concept of the Familiar Stranger (2017) is used to explore the tensions of self-identity as the author SHIFTS uncomfortably between his three-fold statuses. Secondly, the notion of “ontological insecurity” offered by Giddens (1991) is used with the paper exploring the paradox that admission to a mental health facility so-called “place of safety” is in fact itself a disorientating experience for both patient and carer(s).

Research limitations/implications

No positivistic claims to reliability, representativeness or generalisability can be made. It is the authenticity of the account which the reader feels should be afforded primacy in terms of its original contribution to knowledge.

Practical implications

This paper should have practical use for those tasked with developing educational and training curriculums for professionals across the mental health-care sector.

Social implications

This paper implicitly assesses the political wisdom of the policy of mental health bed closures within the wider context of the deinstitutionalisation movement.


This paper is underpinned by original experiential accounts from the author as patient, campaigner for places of safety and onging service-user of mental health care provision.



The author wishes to credit the assistance of Dr Ed Wright from the Department of Sociology at Nottingham Trent University for helping to stimulate ideas for this submission.


Long, M.S. (2020), "The familiar stranger of mental health", The Journal of Mental Health Training, Education and Practice, Vol. 15 No. 4, pp. 237-247.



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