Many patients diagnosed with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and
major depression have a support system in place, but patients with less severe
disorders are less likely to arouse sympathy from friends and family, according
to recent study results.
Brea Perry, PhD, of the University of Kentucky, studied the
results of interviews conducted with 165 first-time patients diagnosed with
varying degrees of mental illnesses. Her analysis focused on the measure of
patients personal community networks, including friends and family whom
the patients named as most likely to provide support when needed, and a
peripheral network of individuals with whom the patient is not close.
Results show that patients early in their diagnosis can rely on five or
six core supporters of family and friends. On average, 3.3 members of the core
network know about, and are usually supportive of, the patients
situation. However, on average, those with more severe diagnoses reported
larger core networks (IRR=1.78, P=.001), and more core network members
are aware of their diagnoses (IRR=1.98, P=.001). Patients with bipolar
disorder (IRR=2.18, P=.001) and major depression (IRR=1.28,
P=.05) reported more core network members who reacted supportively than
patients with less severe diagnoses.
Results also showed that patients with more severe mental illnesses are
vulnerable to discrimination by those outside of their core network of
supporters. This creates a paradox, according to Perry, since a patient
diagnosed with a serious mental disorder can net support from those with whom
he feels closest while experiencing rejection from acquaintances and strangers.
Perry said broad definitions of mental illness may have diluted the
publics perception of those illnesses, and as a result, people may not
necessarily feel that patents with less severe mental disorders should assume
the sick role.
[R]esponses to signs that a friend or family member has a mental
illness may reflect the extent to which certain psychiatric disorders are
recognized as legitimate medical conditions in contemporary American
society, Perry said. Such cultural belief systems can shape
individuals illness career trajectories, as well as the institutional and
interpersonal treatment of people with mental illness.
Disclosure: The researcher reported no relevant financial