Mental illness not only affects certain individuals – family members and friends can suffer along with the individual. For family members who want to learn how to cope with a loved one impacted by a mental illness and understand different mental illnesses better, the National Alliance on Mental Illness has an education program that can be helpful.
The Family-to-Family Education Program is a free 12-week program in different locations in the U.S. and other countries that now has data to support its effectiveness in helping family members who attend. The program has been around since 1991, and it covers mental illnesses like schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder and addictive disorders, according to the NAMI website.
Lisa Dixon, one of the researchers for the study called “Outcomes of a Randomized Study of a Peer-Taught Family-to-Family Education Program for Mental Illness” that was released in June, 2011 in the journal Psychiatric Services, said the results showed how helpful the program can be.
“At the end of three months, which is a very short time, [there is] very strong evidence that these family members come out different than when they started,” Dixon said. “They feel more empowered in every domain within their family … they have more knowledge of mental illness, and we have good evidence … that they have improved emotion-focused coping, greater acceptance of mental illness … reduced anxiety and they … are better able to problem solve in their families.”
This improvement for family members could lead to better outcomes for the person with a mental illness, although the study didn’t focus on that aspect. The study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.
“I think the fact that problem solving and skills improve, anxiety goes down, coping goes up, those are things that can really make a difference in the life of a person and [the] life of a family,” said Dixon, a psychiatrist, professor and director of the Division of Services Research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.