NAMI Advocate
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Family and Loved Ones Help Provide the Best Medicine

By Angela Sivak, NAMI Communications Intern

Recent studies have shown that family support is significant to the road to recovery for a person living with mental illness. A new study released in Social Psychology Quarterly revealed that a parent's positive attitude can help steer a child towards recovery, while holding stigmas can lead to the child's decreased ability to function. The data was gathered from case studies of 129 mothers of children diagnosed with schizophrenia. The study found that mothers' stigmas of mental illness led children to view themselves in a more negative light, seeing themselves as "incompetent." "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, the study's lead researcher in a news release."

A second study published by the American Psychiatric Association, and funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) provides scientific evidence for the importance of family support. In this study, researchers evaluated the effectiveness of NAMI's Family-to-Family and other similar courses. The study gathered 318 Maryland residents and tested them for improvements in problem-focused coping and a decrease in stress after receiving training and information. Results showed participants had developed and enhanced emotion-focused coping and problem solving, "significantly" improving their ability to cope with mental illness.

The study coincided with Family-to-Family's 20th anniversary. Since its inception, more than 250,000 family members have graduated from Family-to-Family, armed with the power to cope with and help the family members of individuals living with mental illness. In an interview, published in the most recent NAMI Advocate, Family-to-Family founder Joyce Burland, Ph.D., described the origin of Family-to-Family and her motivation for creating the influential program. In July, Burland is retiring from her position as Director of the NAMI Education, Training and Peer Support Center.

As Burland describes, "the genesis" of Family-to-Family was trying to understand and handle her sister's struggles with schizophrenia and depression. "It was ultimately in that very trying time of searching for some reasonable explanation for the chaos we were experiencing and finding no help. This is what was so emotionally traumatic for us, this sense that the person you love and know has departed and you're all just lost," said Burland.

The NAMI Family-to-Family education program is designed for caregivers of individuals living with severe mental illness. The 12-week course uses trained family members of individuals living with mental illness as teachers. The program teaches family members strategies for handling crises and relapses and provides up-to-date information on medications, mental illness and support groups and services within the community. All instruction and course materials are free to class participants.

"NAMI has long had confidence in Family-to-Family as a signature education program," said NAMI executive director Michael J. Fitzpatrick. "The study reinforces the position of family advocates. It is a signal to the medical profession."

To find a Family-to-Family class in your area visit the NAMI Family-to-Family website.

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