Rhetoric of representation: The disempowerment and empowerment of consumer leaders

Brett Scholz, Stephanie J. Stewart, Julia Bocking, Brenda Happell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Policy mandates consumer involvement in decisions at all levels of the mental health system. One barrier to this involvement is the expectation that consumers involved in systemic work represent broader consumer experiences. To examine how the rhetoric of ? €? representation' was used in relation to consumer involvement in mental health, a qualitative exploratory design was employed using interviews for data collection. Participants were consumers (n = 6) working with public or private mental health organizations in Australia, and colleagues (n = 3) or managers (n = 5) of these consumers. Discursive psychological principles informed the analytic process, to explore contexts in which ? €? representativeness' was used to empower and disempower consumers. The findings suggest there is a lack of clarity about what is meant by representation in the mental health sector. Expecting individual consumer leaders to be representative of consumer views more broadly disempowered them in their roles. Some participants instead discussed ways that organizations should be responsible for seeking representation from more consumer leaders, thus empowering consumers working in the sector. Using the term ? €? representative' to refer to consumers working in mental health does not reflect the value of the consumer perspective and is not well understood within the sector. Comprehensive training should be provided so that mental health service providers are clear regarding the expectations of people in these roles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)166-174
Number of pages9
JournalHealth Promotion International
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019


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