Mothers Play Important Role in Recovery From Mental Illness

Negative family attitudes can harm a patient's self-esteem and quality of life, study finds

THURSDAY, June 9 (HealthDay News) - Negative family attitudes can have an adverse effect on recovery from mental illness, according to a new study.

Researchers found that although family members, particularly mothers, often provide much needed support for the mentally ill, they can also be the source of negative attitudes that stigmatize these patients and impede their recovery.

"Negative attitudes of family members have the potential to affect the ways that mentally ill persons view themselves, adversely influencing the likelihood of recovery from the illness," the study's lead researcher, Fred Markowitz, a Northern Illinois University professor of sociology, said in a news release from the American Sociological Association. "In short, what mom thinks matters," added Markowitz. "It's a chain of effects that unfolds."

The study, published in the June issue of Social Psychology Quarterly, analyzed 129 mothers of adult children diagnosed with schizophrenia over the course of 18 months.

"We found that when those with mental illness exhibited greater levels of initial symptoms, lower self-confidence and quality of life, their mothers tended to view them in more stigmatized terms -- for example, seeing them as 'incompetent,' 'unpredictable' and 'unreliable,'" said Markowitz. When their mothers held these views, the mentally ill patients were more likely to see themselves in the same light, he explained.

The researchers also found that when the mentally ill adopted their relatives' stigmatizing perceptions, their symptoms worsened and their self-esteem dropped along with their quality of life.

"Our study is part of research that is starting to more fully examine how stigma affects the self-concept and identity of those with mental illness," Markowitz noted.

The study's authors concluded that no matter how well-intentioned a mentally ill person's relatives are, stigmatizing attitudes of family members have potentially detrimental effects on a mental patient's ability to recover.

"It is, to a certain extent, a social-psychological process," explained Markowitz. "The ways in which people, including family members and service providers, think about persons with mental illness affect the beliefs and actions of the individuals with mental illness, in turn shaping the trajectory of recovery."

More information

The National Alliance on Mental Illness provides more information on the stigma of mental illness.

Mary Elizabeth Dallas SOURCE: American Sociological Association, news release, June 7, 2011

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