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Journal article review: Meaningfulness and daily occupations

Dr Katrina BanniganMeaningfulness and daily occupations among individuals with persistent mental illness - reviewed by Dr Katrina Bannigan, Director Research Centre for Occupation and Mental Health (RCOMH)

The focus of this article was to investigate how people with persistent mental illness, who have different types of daily structure, experience and describe the meaningfulness of their daily occupations. The study reported was a small study that contributed to a larger study about the importance of competitive work or studying compared to community based daily activities and no regular daily activity, for health and well being. It is an example of how different methodologies can be used to explore different aspects of a research question. The study is described in the paper as a qualitative study, which is disappointing because ‘qualitative’ describes the paradigm the researcher was working in not the actual study design, approach or tradition the researcher was using. There were 102 participants who were from the three groups being studied in the larger study, i.e. those with competitive work or studying (n=34), those attending community based activity centres (n=35) and those with no regular structured activities (n=33). The participants were interviewed using the yesterday activity diary, which is usually used in time use studies, but was adapted to explore the participants’ perceptions of the meaning or value of the occupations they had performed. The interviews were recorded by writing notes in the interview and then typing up verbatim afterwards, this will inevitably mean that some data may have been lost due to memory and because it is difficult to write, listen and talk at the same time. There is a detailed explanation of the data analysis, involving more than one researcher, with different backgrounds, and there was a high level of agreement which increases confidence in the trustworthiness of the study. Five themes were identified that described the facets of meaningfulness and there were 13 categories that emerged from the data to explain these themes. The five themes were:

  1. Connection with others and the world around them
  2. Enjoyment and fun in life
  3. Being productive and having a sense of achievement
  4. Being occupied and having routines and projects in the stream of time
  5. Taking care of oneself to maintain health.

These themes are explained in-depth in the text and discussed in relation to a range of literature. The authors were careful to point out “When investigating experienced meaningfulness at a group level, it is important to bear in mind the complexity, dynamics and uniqueness of human occupation. Human occupation, and its associated meaningfulness, is truly unique and highly individual across events, over time and within different contexts. Hence this study cannot provide knowledge about which occupations are most meaningful for all people with persistent mental illness. Investigating these unique experiences  at a group level can, however, generate knowledge about the most commonly experienced and shared aspects of meaningfulness in daily occupations ” (p32). There was no evidence of reflexivity. Overall, whilst there are some flaws in the text, I found this an extremely interesting read and it does contribute to the body of knowledge in occupational science about the perceived meaningfulness of occupation. It is worth reading from a methodological and occupation perspective.

The full reference for the article is Leufstadius C, Erlandsson LK, Björkman T, Eklund M (2008) Meaningfulness in Daily Occupations among Individuals with Persistent Mental Illness. Journal of Occupational Science, 15 (1) 27-35.