Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Faculty of Science

First Advisor

Geoffrey Nelson

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


The purpose of the present research was to examine the stress experienced by the families of a mentally ill person and the relationship between this stress and factors of social support. The participants were 56 parents of a schizophrenic person who were members of a self-help group catering to the families of psychiatric patients. The following five social support variables were found to relate to measures of Objective Burden and Subjective Burden. The first factor was that of social network size. A positive correlation was found between this variable and Objective Burden, indicating that smaller networks were associated with less burden. Thirdly, networks which were more close knit or dense were associated with less burden. This result was contrary to previous research findings (Hirsch, 1979, 1980). It is possible that problematic situations in which “personal growth” is not a relevant aspect merit the existence of a small, more dense network and are henceforth, more beneficial to the suffering individual. Fourthly, the variable of self-help group supportiveness correlated negatively with both burden measures. Therefore, the more positive the rating of the quality of the group’s support, the less burden was experienced. Finally, the amount of time spent with the patient by the participant’s spouse was found to correlate negatively with the reported burden. That is, greater involvement on the part of the spouse was followed by a lesser degree of burden. A significant predictor of burden was the degree to which the patient was sympathetic (as manifested in social, behavioral and psychological ways). Qualitative data revealed several themes. Most importantly, subjects reported that the stress encountered was of a chronic nature and affected their social lives, family life, physical resources and their psychological well-being. Secondly, over half of the participants stated that they possessed a negative attitude towards professionals in that professionals excluded them from the treatment plan; they did not provide guidelines for patient management; and, in many cases, they blamed parents for the patient’s presenting condition. Thirdly, subjects expressed that a major problem for them was their lack of information regarding the illness of the afflicted family member. Living with perpetual uncertainty, caused this group a great deal of stress. The last theme indicated that participants held a positive attitude toward the self-help group that they attended. These responses reflected the supportive nature of the group, the establishment of a common bond with fellow members, the acquisition of knowledge and information about schizophrenia, and some of the respondents made reference to the action-orientation and community involvement of the group. The implications for future research include the need for continued study in the area of social networks and social support in order to identify the supportive components which serve to reduce experienced burden. In addition, researchers must examine the processes which families undergo when a family member develops psychiatric problems. This will enable the researcher to isolate the changing needs of the family as they proceed through various stages in their coping with the illness. Furthermore, there is a paucity of research focusing on effective coping with a mentally ill person by families. In conclusion, it is apparent that families who are faced with this situation require a great number of supportive services from professionals and that in a majority of cases feel that they are alone in their suffering.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season