Church-Based Support Groups for Families
of Persons with Severe Mental Illness
Background and Purpose
Studies have shown that support group participation improves
families' ability both to care for their relative with severe mental illness and to cope with problems related to the illness. Compared to Caucasians, African American families have more caregiving needs; however,
few African American families attend support groups. Recent literature has suggested that efforts to increase these families' support group participation should include the church, a resource many African Americans
turn to in times of distress.
The goal of this project, which is supported by the Great Cities Faculty Seed Fund, is to examine support group participation outcomes for African American families attending church-based support groups. To
accomplish this goal, Dr. Susan Pickett is working
with family support group leaders from the Community
Mental Health Council and church members from
two African American churches located on Chicago's
south side. Project activities focus on outreach
to families at each congregation and assessment
of support group participation outcomes.
Outreach activities include:
- Distributing educational materials about mental illness and its treatment to church members.
- Advertising support group meeting dates and times in church bulletins.
- A Sunday afternoon workshop in which an African American psychiatrist presented information on the causes and treatment of mental illness. Families and mental health consumers then shared their
- A toll-free telephone hotline
- Guest speakers at support group meetings
Assessment activities were conducted from May through June 1999.
Church leaders will complete surveys measuring the extent to which the support groups have been beneficial to their congregations. A total of 26 support group members completed interviews measuring group
participation outcomes. The following support group participation outcomes were assessed:
- Knowledge of the causes and treatment of mental illness
- Problem-solving ability
- Receipt of help from the support group
- Emotional distress related to caring for the ill family member
- Relationship with the ill relative
- Service use
- Satisfaction with the support group and outreach activities
Results indicate that advertising group information in the church
bulletin and families sharing their experiences with other congregants may be effective outreach strategies. Nearly all of the support group members who participated in the study (91%) stated they increased their
knowledge of the causes and treatments of mental illness and the mental health service system as a result of attending the church-based support group. Increased morale was a group attendance outcome for 70% of
project participants. These results suggest that church-based support groups may be a valuable coping resource for African American families of persons with mental illness.
- Pickett-Schenk, S.A. (in press). Church-Based Support Groups for African American Families Coping with Mental Illness: Outreach and
Outcomes, Psychiatric Rehabilitaion Journal.
, Principal Investigator
Mary Harrison, LCSW
Co-Investigators, Community Mental Health Council
Shari Neul, Ph.D., Evaluation Assistant
Terrence Stewart, M.A. , Evaluation Assistant