Family Members’ Attitudes Affect Recovery of Those with Mental Health Issues

A new study suggests that the attitude that a family has toward a member with mental health issues directly impacts their symptoms and 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 Fred Markowitz, a Northern Illinois University professor of sociology and lead researcher of the study. The study, conducted by Markowitz, Jan Greenberg from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Beth Angell from Rutgers, examined 129 mothers, all who had an adult child with schizophrenia. “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. “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.”

Markowitz added, “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.” The researchers stress that these negative attitudes may stem out of good intentions, but can have serious consequences. “This study highlights the notion that recovery from mental illness is not simply a matter of controlling symptoms as indicated by a strictly ‘psychiatric’ perspective,” Markowitz s said. “It is, to a certain extent, a social-psychological process. 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.”

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • AmY


    June 14th, 2011 at 4:32 AM

    This is so true! When my husband became depressed a few years ago he was adamant that he did not want his mom and dad to know because he knew that their attitude would be to suck it up and move on. It is not that they do not care about him but just that they believe you can pull yourself up and deal with it, that life is hard and being blue sometimes is just a part of life. While I get where they are coming from we all know that there are other times that this is easier said than done. He needed intensive therapy and medications to help him rebound and from time to time it is still a struggle. I feel bad though that I know there are times he feels like I am the only person he can talk to, that he could never talk to his mom and dad about this.

  • Liza


    June 14th, 2011 at 8:05 AM

    Well,the way people treat you can really affect how you see yourself. This is especially true for those with disorders or illnesses. And family members are a very important source for all this because they are the one’s you are with for most of the time.

  • Dr. Robin B. Dilley

    Dr. Robin B. Dilley

    June 14th, 2011 at 11:33 AM

    I am breast cancer survivor. I have kept my faith to survive through the support and encouragement of the ones I care about and cares about me. Dr. Robin B. Dilley

  • Stuart Kaplowitz, MFT

    Stuart Kaplowitz, MFT

    June 14th, 2011 at 11:39 AM

    The way we respond and reacts to a person has its effect, moreso if it comes from people that we care about and cares about us. Sometimes, perhaps reacting to something their parents said or did, a child will try another path.

  • Barbara


    June 14th, 2011 at 4:56 PM

    A good show of support is the key for most people’s recovery. Why are there some people who just cannot find it within themselves to offer that for their family? That is pretty selfish if you ask me.

  • Blizzard


    June 14th, 2011 at 8:22 PM

    just as in memories,I think negative behavior by family members would have more effect than positive behavior. What I mean to say is that if family members’ behavior is good, it may have a good effect but not too great. on the other hand if their behavior is and it is more probable to bring about a very low feeling.

    but I guess that only gives more reason to those related to I’ll people to treat them right and to make them feel good.

  • MAX


    June 15th, 2011 at 4:28 AM

    But for many families it is difficult for them to support what they ultimately do not understand to begin with.

  • phoebe davis

    phoebe davis

    June 17th, 2011 at 9:16 PM

    Since stress and your mood can have a major impact on the symptoms of mental problems, it’s not a hard conclusion to come to. If the family and especially the mothers don’t give you support, then you’re going to spend a substantial amount of more time trying to get better.

    You need to know you’re not on your own.

  • Lolita


    June 17th, 2011 at 11:19 PM

    Mothers that think less of their children because they have a mental illness do not deserve to be mothers! I am dismayed to hear that. Even if schizophrenia can be a very debilitating illness, it’s not a subject to be mean about and that’s all that is: mean.

    If their child was in a wheelchair and couldn’t use his legs, would they call them incompetent and unreliable? I most certainly think not!

  • Ruthie Dunsmore

    Ruthie Dunsmore

    June 18th, 2011 at 1:48 AM

    If a mother voiced a single bad word about a child with a disability, the social workers should be there with a battering ram before sunset! Saying cruel things like that because of a mental illness isn’t just wrong, it’s child abuse imo. You know how society feels about child abusers.

    There are couples desperate to adopt and give children a loving home that would take these children in a heartbeat.

  • Katie McArthur

    Katie McArthur

    June 18th, 2011 at 3:58 AM

    @Ruthie: Exactly, and you don’t have to see something to know it’s having an effect. Support is so very important for these children, regardless of whether they are five or fifty. You can’t just hope that it goes away like a random illness a child picks up! Make the best of it for your child’s sake. That’s what any decent mother would do. Mother love never dies.

  • josefmichaels


    June 19th, 2011 at 11:17 PM

    Those who suffer from mental illness wind up accepting that its stigma comes out of ignorance and fear on your family’s side.

    I never expected my family to shun me the way they did. It takes time to get over the hurt but you do eventually. I can’t blame them because I don’t know how I would have reacted had the roles been reversed. I forgave them long ago.

  • Elijah Ferriss

    Elijah Ferriss

    June 22nd, 2011 at 2:53 PM

    @Max: I don’t buy it. That’s not a reason to withdraw support; it’s an excuse for not taking an interest. We have sites like WebMD and Good Therapy for reference points. It’s very easy to pick up a medical encyclopedia from any high street bookstore or go to a library. It would take an hour at most of a person’s time to understand a mental illness at a basic level.

    If a relative is not willing to do something as simple as any one of those things just once, they have no right to call themselves a concerned family member in my opinion.

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