Family Involvement with Homeless
Severely Mentally Ill Relatives
Little is known about families' relationships with relatives who are
homeless and have a severe mental illness (HSMI). Some studies suggest that persons with mental illness who are homeless have more severe psychiatric symptoms, substance abuse problems, and violent behavior
than persons with mental illness who are not homeless. Families can become exhausted and emotionally drained from years of providing care to a relative impaired by severe psychiatric and substance abuse
problems. Sometimes their only choice for respite is curtailed contact with their ill relative. Other families may have limited contact and involvement due to geographic and economic limitations.
Finally, families dealing with their own unemployment, substance abuse, or domestic violence problems may prevent them from caring for their HSMI relative.
a study funded by the UIC Campus Research Board,
Dr. Susan Pickett examined 64 family members'
contact and involvement with their HSMI relatives. These family members participated in a telephone interview which assessed the type and amount of contact with the
HSMI relative, amount of assistance given to the HSMI relative, feelings of worry about the HSMI relative's well-being, current relationship with their HSMI relative, and current service needs and
use. The majority of the family members who participated in the study were African American and female. The majority of HSMI relatives were male (75%); they had been ill for 18 years and had
experienced 5 lifetime episodes of homelessness.
- 81% of family members had an in-person visit or spoke on the telephone with their HSMI relative in the month prior to the interview.
- On average, family members had in-person visits with their HSMI relative once a month and spoke to him or her several times a month on the telephone.
- 51% of family members enjoyed their current level of involvement with their HSMI relative.
- Family members who were African American, female, and whose HSMI relative had longer lengths of homelessness reported more positive relationships with their ill relative.
- Family members who reported high levels of worry about their HSMI relative's well-being were more likely to report wanting more contact and involvement with their HSMI relative.
- Family members who reported more positive relationships with their HSMI relative also had higher levels of contact and involvement with their ill loved one.
These findings suggest that family members have ongoing contact and
involvement with their HSMI relatives. They also show a great deal of concern about their relative's well-being and safety. Additional analyses of these data are being conducted to examine how
service needs and assistance given to the HSMI relative influence levels of familial contact and involvement.
Susan Pickett, Ph.D., Principal Investigator