Academic journal article Family Relations

Predictors of Support Group Participation among Families of Persons with Mental Illness

Academic journal article Family Relations

Predictors of Support Group Participation among Families of Persons with Mental Illness

Article excerpt

Predictors of Support Group Participation Among Families of Persons With Mental Illness*

Tamar Heller**, Jennifer A. Roccoforte, and Judith A. Cook

Participants (n = 131) and non-participants (n = 59) of support groups for families of persons with mental illness were compared on demographic characteristics, level of disability of the relative with mental illness, and family support resources. Participants used fewer services, provided care to a relative requiring greater assistance, and were more likely to live with the relative. The most common referral source for family support groups was a mental health professional or agency. The main reasons participants reported attending groups were to receive emotional support and to obtain information about mental illness. Reasons for dropping out included not having enough time to attend, no longer helpful, problems with transportation and parking, inadequate leadership, and lack of comfort with other members.

Key Words: families, mental illness, support groups.

Since deinstitutionalization, the responsibility of long-term care for persons with mental illness has been increasingly assumed by families and communities. While an estimated 40% of individuals with mental illness live with their families (Hatfield & Lefley, 1987), those who live outside the family home often depend on the assistance and continued involvement of their families. Family caregivers are willing, but ill-prepared, for the physical, emotional, and financial burden that the mental illness of a relative places on family resources (see Cook & Pickett, 1988, for a review). Too often, families of persons with mental illness find themselves socially isolated, with little knowledge about the illness and limited coping strategies (Battaglino, 1987). Many believe themselves to be at fault for the relative's condition and feel a sense of guilt and shame. In the past few years, mental health professionals have shifted their view of families from an etiological factor in mental illness to recognizing families as an important resource and advocate for persons with mental illness in our society (Spaniol, Jung, Zipple, & Fitzgerald, 1987). Grella and Grusky (1989), nevertheless, found that family caregivers expressed dissatisfaction with professional service providers both in terms of feeling excluded from treatment planning for the relative and obtaining assistance in coping with their own problems and concerns.

One promising intervention which is specifically designed to address the unmet needs of these families are support groups. The recent proliferation of family support groups is part of the larger social movement of self-help and mutual assistance organizations for people affected by a variety of chronic and stressful life circumstances, whose needs have been inadequately addressed by the "ordinary" agencies of assistance (Levine, 1988). Despite the phenomenal growth of family support groups, little is known about who typically joins, the motivational factors for voluntary participation, and what leads some families to discontinue their involvement. This study addresses the differences between participants of support groups for persons with mental illness and non-participants in terms of demographic characteristics, level of disability of the relative with mental illness, and family support resources. The study also provides a qualitative analysis of the reasons family members cite for the decision to affiliate themselves with a support group and why some members drop out.

The few studies which have examined differences between family members who join support groups and members who do not, have found significant differences in socio-demographic characteristics and level of functioning of the relative with mental illness. The support group participants are more likely to be White, educated, middle-aged, and middle income. Their relative with mental illness is more likely to be living at home, have a diagnosis of schizophrenia, and have experienced multiple hospitalizations (Battaglino, 1987; Gidron, Guterman, & Hartman, 1990; Norton, Wandersman, Goldman, 1993; Sommer, Williams, & Williams, 1984). …

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