Mental Illness Recovery Often Influenced By Family Attitudes

A new study in Social Psychology Quarterly sheds light on the role of family members in the treatment of those diagnosed with a mental illness. Researchers from Northern Illinois University measured the impact of the attitudes of relatives of patients during treatment and found that they can often provide critical support- but also, stigmatizing opinions can impede 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,” said lead researcher Dr. Fred Markowitz, an NIU professor of sociology.

The study centered on perhaps the most polarized archetypal figure in psychology- moms. 129 mothers of schizophrenic adult kids were included in the 18-month long study, and Markowitz says that their opinions were integral in the success of treatment. He explains:

“In short, what mom thinks matters,” Markowitz said. “It’s a chain of effects that unfolds.

“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,'” Markowitz continued.

He also noted:

“When mothers held these views, their sons and daughters with mental illness were more likely to come to see themselves in similar terms—what social psychologists call ‘the reflected appraisals process.’ Importantly, when the individuals with mental illness took on these stigmatizing views of themselves, their symptoms became somewhat greater and levels of self-confidence and quality of life lower.”

The study is part of new research, Markowitz says, into the affects of stigma in general on mental illness and recovery.