Family Experiences with Mental Illness

Family Experiences with Mental Illness

Family Experiences with Mental Illness

Family Experiences with Mental Illness

Synopsis

Tessler and Gamache provide substantial research on the impact of mental illness on the family through interviews conducted with hundreds of family members between 1989 and 1997. According to the authors, how families experience the mental illness of a relative depends on many social factors, including how public mental health services are organized and financed, and whether families feel judged or supported by professionals.

Excerpt

Although their reactions may vary, virtually all family members experience their relatives' mental illness in life-changing ways. This is true whether it is a widowed mother who provides a home for an adult son with schizophrenia, a retired father who makes financial sacrifices to help his daughter with bipolar disorder pay her rent, a brother who chooses to distance himself emotionally and physically from a brother who is noncompliant with medication, or an adult child who worries about her mother's increasing inability to care for herself. The fact that most of the time, family members are able to adapt to the mental illness of a relative, often in the most supportive of ways, speaks to the resilience of the American family and its capacity to find strength in adversity.

In this book, we use survey research methods to examine how the family experience with mental illness tends to be structured by factors that are external to the disorder per se. Among the factors we examine are family relationships (parent, spouse, son, sister, etc.), living with or apart from the relative with mental illness, the family members' attitudes toward mental illness, and relations with mental health professionals. We also take into account larger changes in the organization and financing of mental health services. By linking social, psychological, and economic factors to the family experience, we attempt to go beyond simple generalizations about the burden of men-

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