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 Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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