© 2017

Examining Mental Health through Social Constructionism

The Language of Mental Health

  • Offers cutting-edge theoretical and empirical analysis research from the new Palgrave Language of Mental Health series

  • Outlines a variety of language-based methodologies for studying mental health

  • Provides practical strategies by reviewing the application of social constructionist research in therapeutic practice and child mental health


Part of the The Language of Mental Health book series (TLMH)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xvii
  2. Michelle O’Reilly, Jessica Nina Lester
    Pages 1-29
  3. Michelle O’Reilly, Jessica Nina Lester
    Pages 31-51
  4. Michelle O’Reilly, Jessica Nina Lester
    Pages 53-73
  5. Michelle O’Reilly, Jessica Nina Lester
    Pages 75-105
  6. Michelle O’Reilly, Jessica Nina Lester
    Pages 107-136
  7. Michelle O’Reilly, Jessica Nina Lester
    Pages 137-167
  8. Michelle O’Reilly, Jessica Nina Lester
    Pages 169-197
  9. Michelle O’Reilly, Jessica Nina Lester
    Pages 199-227
  10. Michelle O’Reilly, Jessica Nina Lester
    Pages 229-259
  11. Michelle O’Reilly, Jessica Nina Lester
    Pages 261-298
  12. Michelle O’Reilly, Jessica Nina Lester
    Pages 299-314
  13. Back Matter
    Pages 315-366

About this book


This book explores social constructionism and the language of mental distress. Mental health research has traditionally been dominated by genetic and biomedical explanations that provide only partial explanations. However, process research that utilises qualitative methods has grown in popularity. Situated within this new strand of research, the authors examine and critically assess some of the different contributions that social constructionism has made to the study of mental distress and to how those diagnosed are conceptualized and labeled. This will be an invaluable introduction and source of practical strategies for academics, researchers and students as well as clinical practitioners, mental health professionals, and others working with mental health such as educationalists and social workers.


mental illness social constructivism post-structuralism anti-psychiatry critical psychiatry discourse analysis discursive psychology sociolinguistics conversation analysis language-based methodologies

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.University of LeicesterLeicesterUnited Kingdom
  2. 2.Indiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA

About the authors

Dr Michelle O'Reilly is a Senior Lecturer for the Greenwood Institute of Child Health at the University of Leicester, and Research Consultant for Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust. 

Dr Jessica Nina Lester is an Associate Professor of Inquiry Methodology in the School of Education at Indiana University, USA. 

Bibliographic information

Industry Sectors
Health & Hospitals
Public Health


“The metaphor of “mental illness” is so commonly used that it is now an accepted reality, subject to measurement and medication. In this enormously valuable book Michelle O’Reilly and Jessica Lester take us back to ground zero: there is no mental illness until we construct each other in these terms. And this makes a big difference to society – especially to those who are defined as such, by themselves and others. The gains and losses are huge in terms of anguish, prejudice, power, and money! The present work provides a thoughtful and carefully detailed look at the social construction of mental illness as it has emerged in the last century, and is currently affecting our lives. This is essential reading for mental health professionals, as well as for policy makers and the informed public.” (Professor  Kenneth J. Gergen, Swarthmore College and author of An Invitation to Social Construction)

“This is an extremely relevant and welcome text. It highlights some very important issues within the field of mental health including the place and status of different kinds of evidence that inform practice, and the way that mental health and illness are conceptualised. The focus on language use and discursive approaches is particularly inspiring, and I believe it will be of immense value for mental health practitioners and researchers alike.” (Dr Nikki Kiyimba, University of Chester and author of Doing Mental Health Research with Children and Adolescents)

“Talking such a fundamental aspect of life that we tend to ignore its value in our interactions with others, including those in clinical settings, such as mental health. It is refreshing to see a book looking at the value of talk in health and the research, which surrounds these processes. This book examines many of the concepts surrounding mental health from a social constructionist perspective, and enables the reader to challenge their own ideas about mental health.” (Dr Khalid Karim, University of Leicester, author of A Practical Guide to Mental Health Problems in Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder)