Mental illness and family to family

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: January 10th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

A homeless man stumbles along the sidewalk, as he looks and points at the sun. Disgusted people glare and step aside to avoid him. But if “sun-man”… as the town’s residents call him… were in an African country, his community and family would embrace and encourage him, says a World Health Organization study.

The startling study, conducted in 1979 and again in 1992, found that people in developing countries have twice the recovery rate from mental illness as those in the United States. The reason: differences in treatment. In developing countries, community and family seek to keep them engaged in life and give hope for recovery. In the United States, too often we isolate, label and stigmatize.

To reverse this trend, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill has developed a program for parents and siblings called Family-to-Family. The twelve-week educational program teaches families about mental illness and fosters coping skills. In addition to hearing about new brain research and medications, the group participates in an empathy workshop. There they learn what it’s like to have your television tell you what to do or how it must be to take an exam in school when voices are screaming in your head.

The leaders themselves have mentally ill family members. While they encourage, they also show participants how to explain mental illness to others. In this way, family and community can give people with mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and depression, the essential ingredient for recovery: hope.