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Challenging ideas in mental health
Challenging ideas in mental health

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1.1 Boundaries of exclusion

The first idea to come under critical consideration is that of boundaries. Boundaries can be helpful and, indeed, we use them here as a means of exploring different, and competing, explanations of mental health and distress. However, they can also be limiting and excluding, emphasising the differences between people, some of which run very deep. At their simplest, boundaries put limits on tasks so that they appear manageable. They help to mark out personal space in a shared office, or indicate the extent of someone’s home and garden. Boundaries are often physical, represented by partitions or walls or fences, to show who is allowed in and who is not (and under what terms).

A photograph of two pairs of shoes either side of a painted line.
Figure 1

The sorts of boundaries we consider here are more social than physical. They also define ‘who’s in and who’s out’.

In many ways, social boundaries are the most pervasive. That is because they can serve to exclude people who look or behave differently, and they are much harder to shift than a single garden fence.