Aim. This paper reports a study to examine the effectiveness of a 12-session mutual support group for Chinese families caring for a relative with schizophrenia compared with a psycho-educational group and routine family support services in Hong Kong.
Background. Schizophrenia is a disruptive and distressing illness for patients and their families. With the current trend of community care for mental illness, there is evidence that family intervention reduces patient relapse and re-hospitalization, satisfies the health needs of families and enhances their coping capabilities.
Methods. A randomized controlled trial was conducted from May 2002 to June 2003 with 96 Chinese families of a relative with schizophrenia selected from two psychiatric outpatient clinics in Hong Kong. Families were randomly assigned to receive mutual support (n = 32), psycho-education (n = 33) or standard care only (n = 31). The interventions were delivered at outpatient clinics over a 6-month period. Pre- and post- (1 week and 6 months) testing took place and families’ functioning, mental health service utilization, patients’ level of functioning and duration of re-hospitalization were measured.
Results. At both post-test periods, family caregivers and patients in the mutual support group reported statistically significant improvements on family and patients’ level of functioning, when compared with their counterparts in the psycho-education and standard care groups.
Conclusions. The findings support the use of mutual support groups as an effective modality of family intervention in a Chinese population caring for a family member with schizophrenia to improve both family and patient functioning.