Interplay of identities: A narrative study of self-perceptions among immigrants with severe mental illness from the former Soviet Union Academic Article uri icon


  • This study explored the self-perceptions of individuals with mental illness who immigrated from the Former Soviet Union (FSU) to Israel. In particular, we examined the double stigma borne by these individuals as new immigrants and psychiatric patients, which may threaten their identity and render them at risk for social marginalization. We interviewed 12 FSU immigrants diagnosed with severe mental illness (SMI), who had been hospitalized in psychiatric facilities in the past and, at the time of the interview, were residing in community rehabilitation centers. Their narratives revealed that they constructed multiple identities for themselves: as bearers of Russian culture, as Soviet Jews, as normative immigrants, and only lastly as consumers of mental health services. In the case of FSU newcomers with mental illness immigration may serve as a normalizing and positive experience. Study findings suggest that stressing patients' identity as mentally ill may be counterproductive in their rehabilitation; instead, clinicians may consider working to mobilize patients' personal and cultural assets and helping them reinstate a more complex self-perception. Further research is needed to explore how immigration may affect self-perceptions of individuals with SMI from other cultural groups.

publication date

  • January 1, 2015