Chauhan, Nisha, Leeming, Dawn and Wattis, John (2021) “It’s a Big Family Here.” Becoming and Belonging in a Service Providing Employment-Related Support for People with Mental Health Problems: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Community Mental Health Journal. ISSN 0010-3853

The impact of employment for individuals with mental health problems is complex. However, research suggests that when support is provided for accessing employment and gaining roles and skills that are valued by others, a positive efect can be seen on recovery. Employment-related support can take many forms and there is a need for further research into the experience of accessing diferent kinds of services. The current paper examines the lived experience of 11 people participating in a UK social enterprise providing work experience, training, and skills development for those with mental health problems. Although ‘sheltered’, the organisational ethos strongly emphasised service-user empowerment, co-production, equality with staf, provision of valued social roles and person-centred support. Phenomenological analysis revealed that participants valued a sense of belonging and authentic relationships within the service, whilst being given the opportunity to rediscover an identity that may have been lost because of their mental health problem. However, participants also discussed how, although the service improved their self-value, some feared the ‘real world’ outside of the service and were unsure whether they would be met with the same support. Tensions between feld dominant approaches in supported employment and the experiences and values of the participants are explored. We argue that the fndings highlight the importance of a nurturing working environment and the value for recovery of a range of meaningful roles, beyond competitive employment.


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