Socially constructing mental health nursing: from sleepwalking zombies through to brave new worlds

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Hurley, J & Lakeman, R 2018, 'Socially constructing mental health nursing: from sleepwalking zombies through to brave new worlds', International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, vol 27, no. S1, pp.23.

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This paper draws upon the philosophical stance of social constructionism to better understand how mental health nursing is presently conceived and to consider its future (if indeed there is one). We also ask whose voices are shaping the future and the discourses that are constructed around health and illness that inform the need for mental health nursing. We adopt a reflexivity to current premises about mental health nursing and search for generative new narratives that may build new futures for the profession, or alternatively make it unrecognizable as a meaningful discipline.

Social constructionism places value upon the use of language; language does not mirror life (Gergen, 2015); rather it is the doing of life. Once we begin to articulate the current and future states of mental health nursing social constructionism argues that we engage in a discourse constructed by tradition and taken for granted values. Our language is not seen as an accurate reflection of our profession and neither is the language of one given rank over that of the other; indeed, multiple descriptions exist for any single phenomena, in this case mental health nursing.

However, this multiplicity of descriptions of what is and what could be the future (if any) of mental health nursing generates problems in terms of being able to create shared truth, knowledge and meaning among one another, and to those outside of the profession. The generation of these shared understandings through language consequently assumes rules to apply to the use of words within the contexts in which they are uttered, and it is from within this context that the meaning is generated.

These rules of social constructionism as applied to building a future for the profession inform us that as we describe, or otherwise represent, we fashion our future and that reflections on our understandings are vital to our future well‐being. These rules ask us to consider what relational groups are having the dominant discussions about the future of mental health nursing and who is being silenced, if anyone.

Gergen, K. (2015). An invitation to social constructionism (3rd ed). Los Angles: Sage.