This research examines the experiences of individuals diagnosed with chronic mental illnesses and how they navigated the mental healthcare system in New Orleans, Louisiana. To realize the main research objective, I analyzed how individuals with chronic mental illnesses perceive mental illness and stigma; the services individuals use to address their mental health needs and the barriers they face in this process; who individuals disclose their mental illness to and under what contexts; and how individuals diagnosed with mental illness and their caregivers understand and embody recovery. Situated between medical anthropology and urban anthropology, it examines the challenges individuals diagnosed with chronic mental illness and caregivers encounter in utilizing mental health services.

Using critical race theory and studies on whiteness, I analyze the intersectional identities of individuals to understand how various axes of identities such as race, gender, age, and religion affect how people utilize mental health services, conceptualize stigma, how this is related to disclosure, and what recovery means to them. While I use stigma scales to measure various types of stigma, I triangulate this data with observations from participant-observation and interviews to reconceptualize stigma in what Tyler and Slater (2018) argue for approaching the social and political dynamics of stigma and acknowledging history. I do this through the use of stigma syndemics. Central to this is the role of mental health professionals and other key stakeholders, and how they interact with individuals utilizing community mental health services. I examine how past experiences such as trauma and incarceration limit access to housing programs, employment, and how this affects recovery.

Lastly, I argue that for effective advocacy on mental health to occur, synergistic activism through coalition building needs to transpire between all the entities that affect individuals who have mental illnesses.

Degree Date

Spring 5-18-2019

Document Type


Degree Name





Caroline Brettell

Second Advisor

Anne M. Lovell

Third Advisor

Nia Parson

Fourth Advisor

Carolyn Smith-Morris

Subject Area


Number of Pages




Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License





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