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Mum's stigmatizing attitude about mentally ill child hinders recovery

June 8, 2011 - Washington

A new study led by a Northern Illinois University sociologist has revealed that the negative attitudes of a mother about her mentally ill child can hinder the recovery of the child from the illness.

The study has shown 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," according to 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, studied 129 mothers of adult children with schizophrenia over an 18-month period.

"In short, what mom thinks matters. It's a chain of effects that unfolds," he said.

"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'," he added.

"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," he said.

The findings were published in the June issue of Social Psychology Quarterly.


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