Self-help groups for families of the mentally ill: Perceptions of helpfulness

Manulyn Citron, University of Pennsylvania


Family members of the mentally ill have been forced to assume overwhelming responsibilities and thus great burden as a result of dissipation of government funding for mental health services and deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill. These burdens permeate their family relationships, social life, leisure time, work and school functioning, finances, and physical health; and may include fear, anxiety, grief, depression, anger, embarrassment, and guilt. In response to this shift in responsibilities, self-help groups have become important resources for families of the mentally ill. These groups attempt to provide information, support, and guidance in an effort to lessen this burden. Little is known about the various factors that are beneficial to the participants of self-help groups. The present study was an attempt to increase an understanding of the factors perceived as helpful by group members using Yalom's factors in clarifying the dynamics of groups. This study examined the relationships among family members perceptions of their self-help group's helpfulness and benefit; length and intensity of their participation in these groups; and their experience of burden and emotional distress. A sample of 202 people who were members of the Alliance for the Mentally Ill of Pennsylvania (AMI of Pa.), an association of self-help groups for families of the mentally ill, were recruited and responded to a self-administered questionnaire. Analysis of variance and multiple regression revealed the following: Participants who felt either personally more empowered or felt a greater affiliation and were longer participants in the group were more likely to experience benefit from belonging to the group. Extent of AMI participation was inversely related to burden and stress. Greater levels of burden and stress were associated with those members who are parents (vs. other relatives) of the mentally ill, relatives who have greater involvement in caregiving duties, and those who perceive more disturbing behaviors in their ill relatives. Implications for future research, education, and practice are discussed. The findings may provide the basis for evaluating and improving self-help group efficacy and contribute to a general theory of how people cope and the factors within a group which they find beneficial.

Subject Area

Academic guidance counseling|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology|Social work|Social psychology

Recommended Citation

Citron, Manulyn, "Self-help groups for families of the mentally ill: Perceptions of helpfulness" (1996). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9636140.