Definitions of Community for Individuals with Serious Mental Illnesses: Implications for Community Integration and Recovery

Rohini Pahwa, Melissa E. Smith, Erin L. Kelly, Ryan J. Dougherty, Helle Thorning, John S. Brekke, Alison Hamilton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While recent work on community integration for individuals with serious mental illnesses (SMIs) has focused on the multi-dimensionality of community integration, it has not been fully rooted in how consumers define and experience communities for themselves. Guided by symbolic interactionism theory, the goal of the present study is to explore definitions of community as provided by individuals with SMIs, and to incorporate those definitions into a theoretical framework of community to inform community integration efforts in the context of mental health services and recovery. Semi-structured interviews were conducted between November 2017 and September 2018 with 90 racially/ethnically diverse participants who were 18 years and older with an SMI and receiving community mental health services. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using ResearchTalk’s "Sort and Sift, Think and Shift" methodology. Themes derived from participants’ definitions of community included a structural aspect of people and places; a functional aspect of socializing, helping and receiving resources; and an experiential aspect of shared struggles and experiences, finding safety, and identifying with others. To this end, we propose a Structural, Functional and Experiential (SFE) model of community. The SFE model of community provides a conceptual framework and guidance for clinicians, researchers, policy makers and service stakeholders regarding the complexity and variability of community for their consumers, which is essential to their recovery. Application of the SFE framework for assessment and intervention is discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)143-154
Number of pages12
JournalAdministration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • Communities
  • Community definitions
  • Community integration
  • Serious mental illnesses

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Phychiatric Mental Health
  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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