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Unformatted text preview: Life History and Narrative Analysis: Feminist Methodologies Contextualizing Black Womens Experiences with Severe Mental Illness M ARYA R. S OSULSKI Michigan State University School of Social Work N ICOLE T. B UCHANAN Michigan State University Department of Psychology C HANDRA M. D ONNELL University of North Texas Department of Rehabilitation, Social Work, & Addictions This paper discusses a methodological approach to research that enhances critical analysis by contextualizing qualitative research findings within participants individual experiences. We dem- onstrate the combined use of life history methods and feminist narrative analysis to explore Black womens everyday experi- ences with mental illness, from their perspectives. These interpre- tive methods reach beyond pathologized conceptions of identity and adjustment that often narrowly characterize mental illness among Black women. Instead, these methods holistically describe a participants experiences and strategies she uses to pursue goals and enhance her life. The use of the methods is illustrated with examples from the life narrative of Maria, a Black woman living with serious mental illness. Our findings underscore the need for rigorous, culturally appropriate methods and further research to evaluate participants standpoints and needs, and Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, September 2010, Volume XXXVII, Number 3 29 interventions to facilitate understanding and improved outcomes. Key words: black women, mental illness, identity, feminist narra- tive analysis, life history methods For Black women, the reality of living with mental illness is stark and complex. Psychological distress in Black popula- tions has increased considerably over the last decade, with an eight percent increase between 1993 and 2001 (Zahran, Kobau, Moriarty, Zack, & Giles, 2004). Women experience higher rates of mental illness than men, and women of color face more mental health-related hardship than White women (Zahran, et al., 2004). Given the limited knowledge about the hardships faced by Black women living with severe mental illness and other aspects of their quality of life, there is a need for research that holistically represents their experiences and perspectives. Life history methods and feminist narrative analysis tech- niques can be used to reach beyond pathologized concep- tions of identity and adjustment that often narrowly charac- terize mental illness among Black women . These interpretive methods help to holistically describe the study participants experiencesboth beneficial and harmfuland identify the strategies they use to pursue their goals and enhance their lives while living with severe mental illness. The results can then be translated into chronicles of the womens lives. In the current study, life stories of Black women with severe mental illness were collected and analyzed in order to promote their use by other Black women also attempting to frame their own...
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