‘Mental Health is Something We All Have’: Shifting Ideas and Practices Regarding Mental Health in the United Kingdom

Bierski, Krzysztof. 2014. ‘Mental Health is Something We All Have’: Shifting Ideas and Practices Regarding Mental Health in the United Kingdom. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

In the United Kingdom today, people who aim at improving social understandings of, and attitudes towards, mental illness have developed a number of innovative campaigning strategies. Among a multitude of media representations, individual narratives, social actions and discussions, new ways of presenting mental health problems have emerged; I consider these jointly under the rubric of mental health activism. Of our particular interest is the activist notion that mental health is something ‘we all have’. This suggests that mental health problems could affect all of us, and therefore responsibility for mental health is (or should be) universal. In aiming at maximum reach, activists deploy a wide range of broadcast and social media in the hope that positive representations of mental health problems will lead to better understanding of these issues, and encourage widespread interest in mental health.

During fieldwork between January 2009 and March 2011, these new practices and notions of health were explored in a range of locations across the UK and on the Internet. Fieldwork included participant observation in activist events, projects and users’ groups aiming to develop a coherent voice; non-participant observation on Facebook; interviews with individuals concerned with mental health problems, and volunteering work for a mental health-focused project in South-West London, during which I filmed individual and collective strategies for recovery.

On the basis of the data collected, I explore shifting ideas and practices of mental health and related forms of sociality by investigating the limiting and enabling potential of language and environment in mental health-focused actions. I show that practices of discussing personal experiences of mental health problems are critical to activism. They carry with them a potential for desired social change and lead to the redefinition of meanings of mental health and illness by pointing away from their individual or aetiological extent and towards their social, or we could say, environmental dimensions.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):



social perspectives on mental health and illness, activism, ethnography of the United Kingdom, environmental aspects of health, mental health media, volunteering

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



19 December 2014

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

16 Jan 2015 16:18

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 09:06



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