WASHINGTON, DC, June 7, 2011 A new study led by a Northern Illinois University sociologist shows that while family members often provide critical support, they also can sometimes be the source of stigmatizing attitudes that impede the recovery of mentally ill relatives.
"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 lead researcher Fred Markowitz, an NIU professor of sociology.
Markowitz and his colleagues, Beth Angell from Rutgers, and Jan Greenberg from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, published their findings in the June issue of Social Psychology Quarterly, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Sociological Association.
Over an 18-month period, the researchers studied 129 mothers of adult children 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 termsfor 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 termswhat 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."
A long line of research has shown that the stigma associated with mental illness can be a major impediment to recovery, affecting self-esteem and even job prospects. But research has not historically examined the links between stigma, reflected appraisals, iden
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American Sociological Association