Self-Help and Serious Mental Illness

Edward L. Knight, PhD, CPRP

In This Article

Why Does Self-Help Work for People With Serious Mental Illness?

We know that self-help works, but why and how? The role of social networks is important to the success of self-help.[4,9,10,11,12,13] People are able to form a network based on common experience and overcome the isolation exacerbated by stigma and discrimination.

In addition, self-help works as the result of the change in role from "helpee" to helper, as proposed by Reissman.[16,17] The persistent role of helpee is demeaning and leads to low self-esteem and negative self-concept. Along those lines, participants in a group can share and teach coping behaviors based on experience.[3,10,12] Those who successfully cope thus serve as role models for people less successful in coping. Finally, self-help groups provide a meaningful structure for participants, one that is not imposed from the outside but rather is generated from the members themselves.

Although studies on self-help do not meet the gold standard of several random assignment studies corroborating the same findings, taken together they point to the beneficial effects of mutual support. We conclude that such self-help groups for those with serious mental illness can be an important adjunct to treatment.


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