Sharing Experience Learned Firsthand (SELF): Self-disclosure of lived experience in mental health services and supportsedit
Objective: Self-disclosure of lived experiences with mental health challenges is a central method for challenging stigma and promoting empowerment. Individuals are encouraged to share their stories yet little is known about the process of self-disclosure in this context. This article presents the results of an investigation of the role of lived experience in professional training and work. Method: A mixed methods design was used in a sequential exploratory manner. A purposive sample of 35 individuals participated in interviews and focus groups. Based on their reports and a literature review, an anonymous online survey (N = 117) was developed and distributed through consumer networks and the SAMHSA funded Consumer Technical Assistance Centers. The qualitative data was subjected to thematic analysis. The survey data were statistically analyzed for differences in levels of disclosure and factors regarding risks, benefits, and guidance regarding self-disclosure. Results: Participants valued their lived experience as a resource through which they could assist others and service delivery. Lived experience was foundational to building relationships with individuals in recovery. Disclosure was dependent on social context and perceptions of safety. Individuals expressed concerns regarding exclusion and discrimination. Conclusions and Implications for Practice: Project participants maintained that their lived experience was their greatest strengths in helping others. At the same time, decisions about disclosure were made in complex social contexts featuring power differentials. Sharing lived experience is essential to peer-delivered services and further exploration is needed to support service development.