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Teaching with madness/‘mental illness’ autobiographies in postsecondary education: ethical and epistemological implications
  1. Alise de Bie
  1. Paul R. MacPherson Institute for Leadership, Innovation and Excellence in Teaching, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Dr Alise de Bie, Paul R. MacPherson Institute for Leadership, Innovation and Excellence in Teaching, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON L8S 4L8, Canada; dasa{at}


This paper presents a critical interpretive synthesis of 53 articles describing the pedagogical use of madness/‘mental illness’ autobiographical narratives in postsecondary education. Focusing on instructor intentions and representations of student learning outcomes, findings indicate that narratives are most commonly used as ‘learning material’ to engage students in active learning, cultivate students’ empathy, complement dominant academic/professional knowledges, illustrate abstract concepts and provide ‘real’-life connections to course content. This paper contributes to a conversation across the intellectual traditions of Mad studies, medical humanities, educational research, stigma reduction and service user involvement to interrogate pedagogical uses of autobiographical narratives that remain in uncritical educational terms rather than as a matter of justice for Mad communities. While teaching with narratives will not inevitably result in social justice outcomes, thoughtful engagement with the ethical and epistemological considerations raised throughout this review may increase this possibility by shifting when, why and how we teach with autobiography.

  • education
  • medical humanities
  • patient narratives
  • mental health care

Data availability statement

See online supplemental file 1.

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Data availability statement

See online supplemental file 1.

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  • Presented at Early ideas that developed into this paper were initially presented at the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 2019 Conference.

  • Contributors This paper was fully researched and written by the author.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.