What happens when you ask people who live with mental health difficulties to write about their everyday life?
Mark Brown and Geena Saini
To date, the wellbeing of people who experience mental health difficulties has been an under-explored area in terms of policy and practice. Interactions between researchers and people who experience mental health difficulties have often centred around either service improvement, the development of treatments or the understanding of symptoms. What has been missing to date is a sense of what everyday life with mental health difficulty is actually like.
A Day in the Life was a one-year crowdsourcing project conceived and carried out by Social Spider CIC that asked people living with mental health difficulties one very simple question: What was your day like? What made your mental health better and what made it worse?
On four calendar days between November 2014 and August 2015 via an open appeal, the project asked people who identified themselves as living with a mental health difficulty to write up to 700 words about what their day was like. Over the year, 893 different days were written by participants, or nearly half a million words, giving a window into the everyday lives of people with mental health difficulties.
These accounts of ordinary days lived with mental health difficulties were then published on the internet, unedited for anyone to read. They represent the largest single collection of accounts of the everyday lives of people with mental health difficulties.
With funding from Public Health England, Centre for Mental Health and Social Spider CIC carried out a limited content analysis of 782 of the uploaded days seeing what, if anything, all of these days told us overall about what affects the day-to-day wellbeing of people living with mental health difficulties.
The report explains the findings of this analysis, including which issues were most frequently identified as having a negative or positive effect on the wellbeing of the writers. It notes that mental health services were the most commonly discussed theme among writers, followed by work and home life. A Day in the Life brings to the surface numerous issues raised by people living with mental health difficulties, and indicates areas for further research.
Against a background of challenging budget settlements, it has become clear that we must collectively find ways of helping people who experience mental health difficulties to have lives where it is possible to feel fulfilled, secure, supported, alive to new possibilities and able to resume old interests, relationships and activities that may have been interrupted by being unwell. Treatment is vital, and improvements in support and treatment are similarly of great importance, but that is not the total sum of life.
A Day in the Life offers valuable insight into life with mental health difficulties, showing that it is possible to harness these conversations and to build something from them that has both intrinsic value as a record of everyday life, and wider value for commissioners and policy makers.