Self-Help and Serious Mental Illness

Edward L. Knight, PhD, CPRP

In This Article

What Consumers Said

Participants in the study by Carpinello and colleagues[1] attested to the fact that self-help worked. One man said, "I have been so immensely affected by the label of Manic Depressive...: some of the feelings of incompetence; being diseased; being in a sick role...I had a sense of hopelessness. I tried 2 suicide attempts. . . then I found the self-help group. . . . I developed a feeling of self-worth." Another remarked, "Self-help has given my whole life meaning. . . it has normalized my life."

One of the basic effects of self-help is a positive self-concept. Who we think we are and how we actually behave is largely a function of how others see and treat us. In this study, positive perceptions of self were often recounted by participants and distinguished from past negative perceptions.

Participants in this study also reported experiencing a sense of personal well-being. Sentiments of personal well-being, including a feeling of inner happiness, having goals, experiencing a sense of fulfillment, feeling useful for the first time in years, and prospering at work and in relationships with other people, were attributed to their memberships in self-help groups. Participants noted : "I have been able to do more things at home and at work;" "I wasn't getting any support... now (I have) this understanding of myself and the ability to use it to help other people;" "Without this I would have considered my life a failure...I have found meaning and purpose to my life."

Furthermore, participants reported that membership in self-help groups had encouraged them to become autonomous decision makers. An autonomous decision maker is involved in the cognitive and motivational processes of decision making. As one participant put it, "The rest of the adult world has choices... and lives with the choices they make."

Participants also attributed significant improvements in their social functioning to the self-help group atmosphere of acceptance, camaraderie, and support. One young adult acknowledged that she had been a "very isolated, shut-down, and withdrawn person...I didn't even talk." In a separate interview, the parent of the same participant described the change in her daughter since she joined the self-help group: "She is more independent and has friends...her social life has for her has moved beyond the house."

Other findings included improved educational goals and career opportunities, sobriety, and less recidivism.

"At one point I had been hospitalized in 16 different hospitals," remarked a self-help group member. "I was manic...and then I started going to... the self-help group."

Only one person in this study expressed doubts about the efficacy of self-help.


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