Emotional "Reciprocity" Aids Both the Mentally Ill and Their Caregiving Families

Study of informal caregivers for the seriously mentally ill
    • May 1, 1997

From 1992 to 1994, researchers at the State University of New Jersey, Institute for Health, Health Care Policy, and Aging Research, studied the factors involved in the provision of informal, household-based care to seriously mentally ill people by their families.

The research team conducted face-to-face interviews with mental patients about to be released from a psychiatric institution, with follow-up interviews a year later. They also interviewed close family members.

Key Findings

  • Caregiving can be construed as a reciprocal exchange between patient and caregiver: the degree to which patients give help and attention to their families strongly predicts how much help they receive in return from family members.

  • Researchers identified mothers as primary caregivers to persons with serious mental illness.

  • Caregiving minority families place more value on caring for dependent kin.

  • Informal social networks can provide supportive services in the short run; over the long term they cannot replace formal mental health services.