Mental Illness and the Effect on Families

Mental Illness and the Effect on Families

Families of persons with mental illnesses present a challenge. Family members are often unaware of mental illnesses their loved ones may be experiencing before treatment is sought. Once in treatment, many family members seek to be involved in the treatment of their loved one with mental illness. Areas of involvement include psychoeducation, support, and collaboration with the treatment team involved in their loved one’s care. However, a study was conducted in which case managers provided mental health treatment in an Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) facility to individuals, and sought to understand the families’ involvements in the process. Their study revealed that family involvement was best when they were a source of support for their loved one, and not in a caregiver role allowing for more autonomy and independence for the patient (Chen, 2008). When family members are called upon to provide caregiving services to loved ones with severe mental illnesses, they are oftentimes burdened with financial stress, caregiver burnout, and sometimes victimization (Thompson, 2007).  Support groups for families known as Multifamily Group Treatment are educational groups for many families that last a couple of years. Another group is individualized for the family known as Behavioral Family Treatment (BFT) to receive their needed goals of problem solving, education and support (Drapalski, 2009). Another type of intervention for families are Brief Family Interventions designed to educate the family on coping and dealing with the mental illness and their role, and assessing needs. Also, agencies such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness offer family programs known as Family-to-Family Education Program and Journey of Hope within the community to empower family members with increased knowledge and how to handle crisis situations as well.

Although families are provided psychoeducational and brief interventions, other mental health professionals advocate for a grounded theory approach. In this approach, the family is in a state of disequilibrium when a mental illness is first diagnosed. The family then seeks to regain balance. The therapist’s goal is to assist the patient and family in seeking balance through support, involvement in the treatment and collaboration with mental health professionals involved in the patient’s care, and community involvement.

By Diana Allam, LMSW

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