Narrative, identity and mental health: how men with serious mental illness re-story their lives through sport and exercise

David Carless*, Kitrina Douglas

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Citations (Scopus)


It has been suggested that mental illness threatens identity and sense of self when one's personal story is displaced by dominant illness narratives focussing on deficit and dysfunction. One role of therapy, therefore, is to allow individuals to re-story their life in a more positive way which facilitates the reconstruction of a meaningful identity and sense of self. This research explores the ways in which involvement in sport and exercise may play a part in this process.

Qualitative analysis of narrative.

We used an interpretive approach which included semi-structured interviews and participant observation with 11 men with serious mental illness to gather stories of participants’ sport and exercise experiences. We conducted an analysis of narrative to explore the more general narrative types which were evident in participants’ accounts.

We identified three narrative types underlying participants’ talk about sport and exercise: (a) an action narrative about “going places and doing stuff”; (b) an achievement narrative about accomplishment through effort, skill or courage; (c) a relationship narrative of shared experiences to talk about combined with opportunities to talk about those experiences. We note that these narrative types differ significantly from—and may be considered alternatives to—dominant illness narratives.

This study provides an alternative perspective on how sport and exercise can help men with serious mental illness by providing the narrative resources which enabled participants to re-story aspects of their lives through creating and sharing personal stories through which they rebuilt or maintained a positive sense of self and identity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)576-594
Number of pages19
JournalPsychology of Sport and Exercise
Issue number5
Early online date1 Sep 2007
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sep 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • mental health
  • identity
  • physical activity
  • schizophrenia
  • narrative
  • therapy


Dive into the research topics of 'Narrative, identity and mental health: how men with serious mental illness re-story their lives through sport and exercise'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this