Voices from the Silence
: a qualitative study giving voice to adults with learning disabilities who have experience as service users with mental health needs

  • Reginald Paul Sutton

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Mental health needs are more prevalent in people with learning disabilities than in the general population, with practically all categories of mental illness represented. The literature, however, indicates that the views of people with learning disabilities who have experienced concomitant mental health needs have received little exploration. The primary aim of this research project was to investigate the experience of mental health needs from the individual perspectives of adults with learning disabilities. A major focus of the study involved adapting the psycho-social conception of subjectivity and methodological framework, which has been developed by Hollway and Jefferson (2000), and employing this as a means of enabling the participation of people with learning disabilities in knowledge production relating to their care and support needs. Data production was based on case studies of seven service users who have presented mental health issues.

Methods for data production included ‘free-association narrative interviews’, an examination of relevant case records, as well as information provided by key care/support staff. Data analysis involved working with the whole of the material gained during fieldwork, and paying attention to links and inconsistencies within that whole. The participants’ free associations were afforded precedence over narrative coherence. Interpretation was theoretically informed, and researcher reflexivity was interwoven throughout the process.

The main conclusions drawn from this research project are:- 1) The ‘free association narrative interview’ method provided an innovative and effective means of addressing the power asymmetry between the researcher and research participants; 2) Information elicited from the research participants reflected the various traumatic/life events in their individual biographies; as well as the growing recognition of the (previously unacknowledged) emotional needs of people with learning disabilities; 3) Experiential data elicited from the research participants have contributed to the (proposed) development of a theoretical model regarding psycho-social subjectivity within the field of Learning Disabilities; 4) Some findings from this project resonate with findings from previous studies; and have potential implications for policy makers, service providers and service users.
Date of AwardMay 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorKieron Hatton (Supervisor) & Ann Dewey (Supervisor)

Cite this