Families Often Embarrassed By Mentally Ill Relatives, Study Finds

Posted on February 10th, 2014
Posted in Mental Health

Early intervention is key to a successful mental disorder recovery. But when those with mental health symptoms avoid treatment by hiding their symptoms, their struggle may be exacerbated if treatment is extensively delayed. In many cases, the reason behind the delay is a fear of stigma. A study out of Spain illustrates how that stigma may extend to family members of mental disorder patients.

The study by researchers at IMIM (the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute) found that relatives of an individual with a mental disorder may be more impacted than relatives of those with a physical health problem. The findings reflect data collected in 28 countries by researchers from the World Health Organization (WHO) in order to better understand the prevalence of mental disorders and the impact they have on a global basis.

The findings, which appeared in Psychological Medicine, measured the level of embarrassment a family member may feel when a close relative is suffering from a mental health issue, including alcohol or drug disorders.

The results show that both mental and physical conditions are an onus on family members. “However, what is most notable is that relatives of patients with mental health illnesses feel greater stigma than those with physical conditions,” said Jordi Alonso of IMIM.

Before now, there has been research to understand the stigma experienced by patients with mental and physical health challenges, but this is the first large-scale study to examine the embarrassment experienced by family members. Alonso suggests that campaigns that raise awareness and anti-stigma efforts include relatives of the diagnosed in their target audience.

WHO highlights the continuing human rights violations experienced in many areas of the world by mental health patients, such as employment, housing and education. In some countries, those with mental disorders are prevented from basic rights like getting married, having children and voting. The stigma results in patients avoiding treatment and, in many cases, isolation. To combat discrimination, WHO recommends awareness campaigns and improved human rights.

In countries where a stigma persists for patients and for family members of those with mental health conditions, treatment may be unnecessarily delayed. In many cases, it is family members or other close loved ones who first notice the signs of mental health symptoms. If that loved one is fearful of the stigma, he or she may avoid helping that relative get necessary treatment and delay recovery.

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