General News Research — 23 October 2012

Siblings are often the forgotten family members when it comes to offering support to relatives of people suffering from mental illnesses, a Victorian researcher says.

Latrobe University lecturer Siann Bowman said her study of 157 siblings of young people suffering from early psychosis showed they were significantly affected by the illness of their brother or sister.

The young people were worried about their sibling’s suicide attempts, violent incidents and whether the mental health problem would improve, Ms Bowman said.

A suicide attempt, involuntary hospital admission or violence at home reduced the satisfaction siblings felt about their quality of life, she said.

Younger siblings felt more traumatised than older siblings, who may be more likely to move out of home or stay with friends if things got tough at home, Ms Bowman said.

However, the study also found that siblings were carrying a significant load caring for their unwell brother or sister and were less likely to bring visitors home, which ultimately affected their social life.

Ms Bowman said the level of care offered to early psychosis patients by their brothers and sisters indicated siblings could receive much better support.

However, she said during her 10 years as a mental health worker with Orygen Youth Health, siblings had never attended a family appointment set up to provide support for carers; usually such meetings were attended solely by parents.

The young people surveyed agreed to be involved on the condition they would not have to attend a mental health clinic and would not be interviewed, instead filling out surveys designed by Ms Bowman.

She said clinicians should consider the impact of early psychosis on siblings and try to offer support, although they would need to overcome barriers associated with the stigma of talking to a mental health clinician.

“Clinicians now, from my research, have a profile of siblings to look out for,” Ms Bowman told AAP.

“Clinicians should make an extra special effort to engage siblings to come and talk to them or get some support, some education, some coping strategies, so that they can have a better quality of life.

“It’s not OK to ignore them. We need to actually support them better.”

Ms Bowman said her future research would include working with colleagues to compile and trial a support strategy for siblings.

About 19 per cent of adolescents aged 13 to 17 experience mental health problems, rising to 27 per cent of those aged 18 to 24.

The most prevalent mental health problems for young people are depression and anxiety, affecting about 30 per cent of adolescents, Ms Bowman said

As first appeared in The Herald Sun, 19 October 2012

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