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Schizophr Bull. 1998;24(1):115-26.

Psychiatric illness and family stigma.

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Division of Sociomedical Sciences, Columbia University School of Public Health, New York, NY, USA.


Considerable research has documented the stigmatization of people with mental illnesses and its negative consequences. Recently it has been shown that stigma may also seriously affect families of psychiatric patients, but little empirical research has addressed this problem. We examine perceptions of and reactions to stigma among 156 parents and spouses of a population-based sample of first-admission psychiatric patients. While most family members did not perceive themselves as being avoided by others because of their relative's hospitalization, half reported concealing the hospitalization at least to some degree. Both the characteristics of the mental illness (the stigmatizing mark) and the social characteristics of the family were significantly related to levels of family stigma. Family members were more likely to conceal the mental illness if they did not live with their ill relative, if the relative was female, and if the relative had less severe positive symptoms. Family members with more education and whose relative had experienced an episode of illness within the past 6 months reported greater avoidance by others.

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