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Open Access Research

Recognition rights, mental health consumers and reconstructive cultural semantics

Jennifer H Radden

Author Affiliations

Philosophy Department, University of Massachusetts Boston, Morrissey Boulevard, Boston, Massachusetts 02125, USA

Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine 2012, 7:6  doi:10.1186/1747-5341-7-6

Published: 13 January 2012

Abstract

Introduction

Those in mental health-related consumer movements have made clear their demands for humane treatment and basic civil rights, an end to stigma and discrimination, and a chance to participate in their own recovery. But theorizing about the politics of recognition, 'recognition rights' and epistemic justice, suggests that they also have a stake in the broad cultural meanings associated with conceptions of mental health and illness.

Results

First person accounts of psychiatric diagnosis and mental health care (shown here to represent 'counter stories' to the powerful 'master narrative' of biomedical psychiatry), offer indications about how experiences of mental disorder might be reframed and redefined as part of efforts to acknowledge and honor recognition rights and epistemic justice. However, the task of cultural semantics is one for the entire culture, not merely consumers. These new meanings must be negotiated. When they are not the result of negotiation, group-wrought definitions risk imposing a revision no less constraining than the mis-recognizing one it aims to replace. Contested realities make this a challenging task when it comes to cultural meanings about mental disorder. Examples from mental illness memoirs about two contested realities related to psychosis are examined here: the meaninglessness of symptoms, and the role of insight into illness. They show the magnitude of the challenge involved - for consumers, practitioners, and the general public - in the reconstruction of these new meanings and realities.

Conclusion

To honor recognition rights and epistemic justice acknowledgement must be made of the heterogeneity of the effects of, and of responses to, psychiatric diagnosis and care, and the extent of the challenge of the reconstructive cultural semantics involved.