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Characteristics of mental health recovery narratives: systematic review and narrative synthesis

Llewellyn-Beardsley, Joy; Rennick-Egglestone, Stefan; Callard, Felicity; Crawford, Paul; Farkas, Marianne; Hui, Ada; Manley, David; McGranahan, Rose; Pollock, Kristian; Ramsay, Amy; Tore Sælør, Knut; Wright, Nicola; Slade, Mike

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Joy Llewellyn-Beardsley

Felicity Callard

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Professor of Health Humanities

Marianne Farkas

Ada Hui

David Manley

Rose McGranahan

Amy Ramsay

Knut Tore Sælør

Professor of Mental Health Recovery and Social Inclusion



Narratives of recovery from mental health distress have played a central role in the establishment of the recovery paradigm within mental health policy and practice. As use of recovery narratives increases within services, it is critical to understand how they have been characterised, and what may be missing from their characterisation thus far. The aim of this review was to synthesise published typologies in order to develop a conceptual framework characterising mental health recovery narratives.


A systematic review was conducted of published literature on the characteristics of mental health recovery narratives. Narrative synthesis involved identifying characteristics and organising them into dimensions and types; and subgroup analysis based on study quality, narrator involvement in analysis, diagnosis of psychosis and experience of trauma. The synthesis was informed by consultation with a Lived Experience Advisory Panel and an academic panel. The review protocol was pre-registered (Prospero CRD42018090188).


8951 titles, 366 abstracts and 121 full-text articles published January 2000-July 2018 were screened, of which 45 studies analysing 629 recovery narratives were included. A conceptual framework of mental health recovery narratives was developed, comprising nine dimensions (Genre; Positioning; Emotional Tone; Relationship with Recovery; Trajectory; Use of Turning Points; Narrative Sequence; Protagonists; and Use of Metaphors), each containing between two and six types. Subgroup analysis indicated all dimensions were present across most subgroups, with Turning Points particularly evident in trauma-related studies.


Recovery narratives are diverse and multidimensional. They may be non-linear and reject coherence. To a greater extent than illness narratives, they incorporate social, political and rights aspects. Approaches to supporting development of recovery narratives should expand rather than reduce available choices. Research into the narratives of more diverse populations is needed. The review supports trauma-informed approaches, and highlights the need to understand and support post-traumatic growth for people experiencing mental health issues.


Llewellyn-Beardsley, J., Rennick-Egglestone, S., Callard, F., Crawford, P., Farkas, M., Hui, A., …Slade, M. (2019). Characteristics of mental health recovery narratives: systematic review and narrative synthesis. PLoS ONE, 14(3), Article e0214678.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 19, 2019
Publication Date Apr 28, 2019
Deposit Date Mar 21, 2019
Publicly Available Date Apr 1, 2019
Journal PLoS ONE
Electronic ISSN 1932-6203
Publisher Public Library of Science
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 14
Issue 3
Article Number e0214678
Public URL
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