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How important is family support for children with mental illness?

October 31, 2011
by News release
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Arlington, Va. — A study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies (August 2011) has found that a family education program offered by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) for parents and caregivers of children and adolescents living with mental illness produces "significant improvement" for families in communication and coping skills.

Currently offered in 36 states, "NAMI Basics" consists of six classes that meet either weekly or twice weekly for two and half hours per class. They are led by two teachers or facilitators who themselves have had the experience of having a young child or adolescent live with mental illness.

"Parents play a critical role in treatment and recovery of the children they love," said NAMI Executive Director Michael J. Fitzpatrick. "Doctors and other mental health care workers are often unable to provide the level of education and support they need."

"NAMI Basics bridges the gap. It provides help that can't be found in a doctor's office."

The study found:

Parents and caregivers who participated in the study reported improvements in self-care and empowerment, based on information and about resources, parenting strategies and self-advocacy.

  • Participants "also experienced a reduction in inflammatory communications," through control of anger, preemption of problems, and being highly specific about expectations.
  • Participants did not report changes in "affirmational communications" within the family. However, this may simply reflect the emphasis of the curriculum.

The study is based on "before" and "after" questionnaires completed by 36 caregivers in Mississippi and Tennessee in 2008-2009. The small sample and geographic scope should cause the study to be interpreted cautiously, while suggesting directions for broader research.

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