Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Family Support Groups: Integral Part of Patient Care

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Family Support Groups: Integral Part of Patient Care

Article excerpt

When Ms. A. visited with her son's psychiatrist, she broke into tears: "I don't know what to do! My son hates us! He calls us 'messengers of the devil!' His sister is getting teased at school. Her classmates won't talk to her, and they say her family is 'really messed up.' No one understands our problems, and I feel so alone. I am too ashamed to confide in any of our family friends. Our friends' kids all seem to be doing so well. What should I do?"

Fortunately, the psychiatrist was aware of the NAMI Family-to-Family Education Program, which provided her with a free, 12-week course for family caregivers of individuals with severe mental illnesses. It gave Ms. A. the opportunity to learn about the biology of schizophrenia, medication, and strategies for medication adherence. She met others who had experienced the maelstrom that mental illness can have on families. From another mother, Ms. A. learned strategies to manage her son when he became angry.

More importantly, she learned not to blame herself and to take time to look after her own health and well-being. She got advice about how to help her daughter manage the teasing at school, and took educational material to her daughter's homeroom teacher.

Families of individuals who suffer from mental illness experience myriad emotions: anger, frustration, hopelessness, sadness, fear, anxiety, shame, and loss. Psychiatrists must maintain a nonjudgmental and empathic stance.

Be mindful of the profound influence mental illness has on the family system. Relatives might become psychologically distressed from the burden of caretaking and the social stigma (J. …

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