Mental health literature in the time of coronavirus

Jerome Carson and colleagues write on 'first person accounts'.

Few topics have had as much media exposure in recent times as the rising epidemic of mental health, embraced by Princes William and Harry, amongst others. While this focus may have recently abated with the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, it at least offers some of us the chance to do some reading around the issue of mental health, particularly around first person accounts (Carson, 2015).

One of the first and most influential of these was in fact written by a psychologist, Professor Stuart Sutherland (Sutherland, 1976). Jeffrey Berman has provided an analysis of seven different mental illness accounts, including accounts by Elyn Saks (2007) and Kay Redfield Jamison (1995). Davies et al (2011) have provided short historical and contemporary accounts of mental illness, featuring British clinical psychologists Dr Rachel Perkins, Dr Emma Harding and Dr Rufus May. Equally there are celebrity accounts, such as those by Carrie Fisher (2009) and Russell Brand (2018), which may have more appeal to students. Gekoski and Broome have also edited a number of these celebrity accounts, with contributors such as Alastair Campbell (Gekoski & Broom, 2014). There is much to be gained in helping us understand the phenomenology of mental illness from these stories.  

For Psychology students, Case Studies may provide an additional way of learning about mental health problems, also utilising first person accounts. At the University of Bolton, the student case study is now the primary assessment tool on the Abnormal Psychology module. The 3,000 word case study is based on a first person account of mental illness. This helps the student understand how the individual’s problems may have arisen from their unique background circumstances. The student is then asked to map the person’s problems onto the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual criteria for their disorder (APA, 2013). This is of course not uncontentious (BPS, 2011).

Finally, the student is required to demonstrate how Psychology theory and research might help us better understand and help that individual. Some published first person accounts, eg. Brampton (2018), provide fascinating examples of how individuals perceive the usefulness of pharmacological and psychological therapies, while also providing unique phenomenological accounts of mental health problems. Student case studies provide a distinct creative method of connecting the personal to the scientific, while helping the individual develop a deeper understanding of individual mental distress. First person accounts of mental illness have much to offer the academic as well as the student.

Dr Jerome Carson, Professor of Psychology.

Maddie Faith, PhD student.

Melissa Husbands, Final year undergraduate.

Dr Richard Jagger, Lecturer in Psychology.

Dr Pedro Vital, Senior Lecturer in Psychology.

Correspondence to [email protected]


American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. DSM-5.  Washington, DC: Author.

Berman, J. (2019). Mad Muse: The mental illness memoir in a writer’s life and work. Bingley, UK: Emerald. 

British Psychological Society (2011). Response to the American Psychiatric Association DSM-5.  Leicester: Author. 

Brampton, S. (2018). Shoot the damn dog: A memoir of depression.  London: W.W. Norton. 

Brand, R. (2018). Recovery: Freedom from our addictions.  London: Bluebird.

Carson, J. (2015). First person accounts. In Holloway, F.  Killaspy, H.  Kalindindi, S.  & Roberts, G. Enabling recovery: The principles and practices of rehabilitation psychiatry. London: RCPsych Press. (pp.99-110).

Davies, S., Wakely, E., Morgan, S. & Carson, J. (Eds) (2011). Mental Health Recovery Heroes Past and Present. Brighton: Pavilion Publishing.

Fisher, C. (2009). Wishful drinking. London: Pocket Books.

Gekoski, A. and Broome, S. (Eds) (2014). Celebrities own stories of mental illness.  London: Constable.

Jamison, K.R. (1995). An unquiet mind: A memoir of moods and madness.  New York: Knopf. 

Saks, E. (2007). The center cannot hold: My journey through madness.  New York: Hyperion.

Sutherland, S. (1976). Breakdown: A personal crisis and a medical dilemma. London: Weidenfield and Nicholson.

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