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While researchers generate an enormous amount of knowledge about mental illness each year, there is also a great deal to learn about how mental health is experienced, lived with, coped with, discussed and treated, every day.

How do we understand mental illness?

CMHA’s A Framework for Support introduces the concept of the Knowledge Resource Base:

“The answers to fundamental questions — what is mental illness? how do we react to it? — play a crucial role in shaping our action. In Canada and other Western countries we tend to assume that the answers come largely from psychiatry and other professional perspectives, and this is a mistake. The psychiatric and professional perspectives are very important, but other sources of knowledge exist and recognizing them can greatly enhance our understanding. There are other voices to be heard.

“…We need to understand mental illness in a richer, more complete fashion, and to understand it in a way that furthers our ability to support consumers as valued citizens. This means that building knowledge is not simply an abstract, academic pursuit. We need to build knowledge that is about something, and that something is people with mental illness living full lives in our communities.

“For consumers, who are often living on the margins of society and are subject to offensive and stigmatizing messages in day-to-day social life, the need for knowledge that can bring them a greater measure of freedom and dignity is a real and concrete issue. Thinking of research in this more focused way, and tying it to emancipation and empowerment, opens the door to building a richer understanding of mental illness.

“The Knowledge Resource Base (KRB) is the conceptual foundation for building this richer understanding and is made up of the types of knowledge that are available to understand and make sense of mental illness. The KRB was developed using a mapping approach aimed at identifying all the sources of knowledge that we actually use in everyday life. It is an attempt to go beyond the notion that real knowledge is only in the hands of the clinical experts, and that others (such as consumers, families, and the public) have little to contribute. By recognizing this wider field of knowledge, its goal is to promote a constructive dialogue that will lead to a more balanced and comprehensive understanding of mental illness.”

For the full story, read A Framework for Support.