Post-traumatic growth in mental health recovery: Qualitative study of narratives
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OBJECTIVES: Post-traumatic growth, defined as positive psychological change experienced as a result of the struggle with challenging life circumstances, is under-researched in people with mental health problems. The aim of this study was to develop a conceptual framework for post-traumatic growth in the context of recovery for people with psychosis and other severe mental health problems. DESIGN: Qualitative thematic analysis of cross-sectional semi-structured interviews about personal experiences of mental health recovery. SETTING: England. PARTICIPANTS: Participants were adults aged over 18 and: (1) living with psychosis and not using mental health services (n=21); (2) using mental health services and from black and minority ethnic communities (n=21); (3) underserved, operationalised as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community or complex needs or rural community (n=19); or (4) employed in peer roles using their lived experience with others (n=16). The 77 participants comprised 42 (55%) female and 44 (57%) white British. RESULTS: Components of post-traumatic growth were present in 64 (83%) of recovery narratives. Six superordinate categories were identified, consistent with a view that post-traumatic growth involves learning about oneself (self-discovery) leading to a new sense of who one is (sense of self) and appreciation of life (life perspective). Observable positively valued changes comprise a greater focus on self-management (well-being) and more importance being attached to relationships (relationships) and spiritual or religious engagement (spirituality). Categories are non-ordered and individuals may start from any point in this process. CONCLUSIONS: Post-traumatic growth is often part of mental health recovery. Changes are compatible with research about growth following trauma, but with more emphasis on self-discovery, integration of illness-related experiences and active self-management of well-being. Trauma-related growth may be a preferable term for participants who identify as having experienced trauma. Trauma-informed mental healthcare could use the six identified categories as a basis for new approaches to supporting recovery. TRIAL REGISTRATION NUMBER: ISRCTN11152837.