Mental health consumers and caregivers as instructors for health professional students: a qualitative study
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- O’Reilly, C.L., Bell, J.S. & Chen, T.F. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol (2012) 47: 607. doi:10.1007/s00127-011-0364-x
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The purpose of this study was to explore the self-reported effect of consumer and caregiver-led education for pharmacy students and to explore the goals, challenges and benefits of mental health consumer educators providing education to health professional students.
Five focus groups (mean duration 46 min, SD 22 min) were held with 23 participants (11 undergraduate pharmacy students, 12 mental health consumer educators) using semi-structured interview guides. The focus groups were digitally audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim and thematically content analyzed using a constant comparison approach.
Three major themes emerged from the data; raising awareness about mental health, impact on professional practice and impact on mental health consumers. The students reported decreased stigma, improved attitudes toward mental illness and behavior changes in their professional practice. The primary reason for becoming an educator was to raise awareness and reduce mental health stigma. However, educators also benefited personally through empowerment, improved confidence and social skills.
Providing students the opportunity to have contact with consumers with a mental illness in a safe, educational setting led to decreases in stigma, the fostering of empathy and self-reported behavior changes in practice. Sharing personal stories about mental illness is a powerful tool to decrease mental health stigma and may be an important aspect of a person’s recovery from mental illness. Contact with mental health consumers in an educational setting is recommended, particularly for future health care professionals. Appropriate training and support of consumers is crucial to ensure the experience is positive for all involved.