Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. R. Hansen

2nd Supervisor

Dr. A. Varpalotai




Our ways of thinking and acting are complex. Personal and social influences mediate who we are and what we believe. This is particularly true for people who have personal lived experience with mental health problems or illnesses. While mental illness can result in challenges with living, ironically, the challenges increase when people use medical or clinical services. Many people who speak out about their experience describe themselves as “survivors”. Yet, these same experiences with the care system effectively inform and evoke leadership and advocacy.

A growing number of survivors recognize that it is important to use their experience to become advocates and leaders for change. In this study, ten people who hold leadership positions that require them to operate from a standpoint of lived experience with mental health problems, engage in critical narrative inquiry to reflect about their experience of becoming leaders and advocates. The personal narratives that participants contribute to this study promote a critical analysis of their journey and the mental health system. They reveal the flaws and injustices that resulted in their silence and caused anger and alienation. They reveal the impact of discrimination. These personal narratives also demonstrate how people adopt alternate understandings about themselves and about the social system.

The study concludes that voice, inclusion and empowerment support leadership and advocacy. This research is unique. It is important in terms of recognizing the effects of personal change, self-determination and empowerment that support leadership and advocacy. We require new understandings to support self-determination and inclusion, and to support survivor leadership in a new mental health system.