Making sense of self‐care practices at the intersection of severe mental illness and physical health—An Australian study
C Ehrlich, P Chester, S Kisely, D Crompton, E Kendall
Abstract: The poor physical health of people who experience severe mental illness (SMI) is an important public health issue that has been acknowledged, yet not properly addressed. People who live with SMI perform a myriad of complex tasks in order to take care of their physical health, while receiving unpredictable levels of support and assistance from health professionals. In this qualitative study, we aimed to uncover the kinds of work people with SMI do in order to look after their physical health. In a metropolitan area in Queensland, Australia, 32 people with lived experience of SMI participated in semi‐structured, face‐to‐face interviews. Data were digitally recorded, transcribed verbatim and open coded. They were then themed using a constant comparative process. We found that people with SMI were engaged in a “rhythm of life with illness” that consisted of relatively short, acute and chaotic cycles of mental and physical illness, accompanied by much longer mental and physical illness recovery cycles. Participants engaged in three specific types of health‐related work to manage these cycles: discovery work (and the associated role of the health professional); sense‐making work to meaningfully interpret health and illness; and embedding work to become engaged self‐managers of illness and producers of health. We discuss how varying levels of support from health professionals impact consumers' self‐management of their physical and mental health; how health professionals influence consumers' experience of treatment burden; and implications for practice.