W. Chernomas & D. E.
The people in a social support network can help a person find solutions
to problems, validate an individual's identity, direct the individual
to helpful information, and provide comfort when that is all that can
be done. Connection to others contributes to a sense of well being and
gives meaning to life. It is no wonder that social support has been
identified as one of the determinants of health, i.e., a factor believed
to contribute to our overall health. Schizophrenia is an illness that
can cause disorganized thinking, hallucinations, and delusions. It can
cause a person to feel depressed or flat and lack the motivation to
act. As a serious mental illness, at different stages it can inhibit
the ability to make meaningful connections with others. Over time, due
to the social stigma associated with serious mental illness, developing
and maintaining relationships can be difficult. A support system is
vital for people living with schizophrenia yet at the same time the
illness places relationships at risk.
This project explored the social support in the lives of women living
with schizophrenia. It was designed to build on an initial study, which
examined the informational, and support needs as perceived by this population.
In the initial study, women indicated there were a limited number of
people in their lives. This present study focused on exploring with
women their formal and informal sources of support, the kind of support
people in their lives provided, and the kind of support women felt was
lacking. Women were encouraged to talk about support in the context
of their everyday lives, responsibilities, and sense of self, in light
of having a serious mental illness.
Semi-structured interviews were conducted with fourteen women living
in the community who self-identified as being diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Most of these women were unemployed, lived in poverty, and relied on
social assistance. Some lived with physical health problems as well.
Most women had few responsibilities or activities to occupy their days,
outside of limited social contacts and some structured activities. They
relied on public transportation to get to appointments or other activities.
The telephone was an important medium to connect them with members of
their support system, especially in times of crisis.
Family members and mental health care providers were often identified
as the most supportive people in their lives. Female friends with serious
mental illness provided a meaningful source of connection to these women;
however, the nature of the support was largely affective. Women conveyed
a sense of reciprocity as they talked about their relationships and
place within the community.
Summary Of Recommendations:
The findings, and the programming and policy implications that emerge,
reinforce those reported elsewhere. A primary health care model, which
is gender-sensitive and considers illness within the context of the individual's
life, is best suited to meet the numerous needs of women living with serious
- An important source of support for women with serious mental illness
is other women who have serious mental illnesses. Education and support
is needed for women with serious mental illness who support each other.
- Families provide tangible, informational, appraisal, and emotional
support over time, and at a distance. Education and support is needed
for family members so they can be supportive.
- Women with serious mental illness could benefit from access to a
health care worker who is knowledgeable about available resources,
and can assist women in making choices about suitable resources in
- Further development of intersectoral partnerships among agencies
serving this population is needed.
- Access to female health care providers to discuss sensitive health
care issues is recommended.
- Support for telephone service as part of social assistance is recommended,
given the importance of the telephone in accessing members of the
- Support for a bus pass as part of social assistance is recommended,
given the need to rely on public transportation to access support
systems outside the home.
- Support for the development of vocational training programs would
be beneficial for women with serious mental illness.
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