Brief Education Program Has Lasting Positive Effect on Families Caring for Mentally Ill Relatives

Evaluation of an education program for families of persons with serious mental illness

From 1999 to 2001, researchers in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, conducted a study to evaluate the effectiveness of the Family-to-Family Education Program, a widely used program for families of persons with serious mental illness.

Family members caring for mentally ill kin often report feeling overwhelmed, frustrated and abandoned. While family-focused peer support and education programs to reduce patient relapse and to enhance both patient and family well-being have grown in popularity, these programs have not been rigorously evaluated.

The most widely used peer-led program is the Family-to-Family Education Program, developed in the early 1990s by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, Arlington, Va.

This is a 12-week program taught by well-trained family member volunteers using a highly structured scripted manual to provide information about mental illnesses, treatments and rehabilitation.

Key Findings: The investigators reported the following findings in an article that is in press at a peer-reviewed journal, Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica:

  • When the program ended, persons attending the Family-to-Family Education Program reported:
    • Less subjective burden of illness.
    • Increased empowerment.
    • Greater knowledge of serious mental illness and the mental health system.
    • Greater ability to cope with illness, compared with pre-program results.
  • The program had no significant impact on the objective burden of illness.
  • Although symptoms of depression significantly improved during the study period, the investigators could not clearly establish a relationship between this finding and the Family-to-Family Education Program.

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