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Challenges in accessing and interviewing participants with severe mental illness.

Newman, Daniel; O'Reilly, Pauline; Lee, Siew Hwa; Kennedy, Catriona


Daniel Newman

Pauline O'Reilly


Background - Interviews are widely used in qualitative research to collect data. However, little has been written about interviewing people with severe mental illness (SMI). Aim - To report and analyse an experience of addressing the ethical and practical challenges of interviewing people with SMI. Discussion Semi-structured interviews were conducted as part of a doctoral study to explore how service users and healthcare professionals built relationships with each other. Conclusion - Although interviewing participants with SMI was challenging, rich data illustrating their experiences were gathered. Careful planning around ethical considerations, such as obtaining informed consent, was required to maximise the opportunities to gather in-depth information during the interviews. The relationship established between researcher and the participants assisted with sensitive disclosures and allowed participants to tell their stories. Implications for research This paper provides strategies to help guide researchers planning interviews with vulnerable populations, including those with SMI. These strategies include how to discuss sensitive issues and promote engagement. Listening to participants' life stories is an intense experience, requiring support for the interviewer to stay neutral during interviews. It is also important to be aware of the differences between the roles of nurse and nurse researcher before undertaking in-depth qualitative interviews, particularly with vulnerable participants.


NEWMAN, D., O'REILLY, P., LEE, S.H. and KENNEDY, C. 2017. Challenges in accessing and interviewing participants with severe mental illness. Nurse researcher [online], 25(1), pages 37-42. Available from:

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 9, 2016
Online Publication Date Jun 22, 2017
Publication Date Jun 30, 2017
Deposit Date Oct 6, 2017
Publicly Available Date Oct 6, 2017
Journal Nurse researcher
Print ISSN 1351-5578
Electronic ISSN 2047-8992
Publisher RCN Publishing
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 25
Issue 1
Pages 37-42
Keywords Engagement; Ethics; Nurse researcher; Relationships; Semi structured interviews; Severe mental illness; Vulnerable populations
Public URL


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