How important is race and ethnicity?: examining caregiving practices of siblings caring for a brother or sister diagnosed with a severe mental illness

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Earl, Tara Roshell

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Adult siblings of persons with severe mental illness are likely to assume increasing roles in the care and support of their relatives with severe mental illness. The current mental health policy system is not only severely fragmented, it has failed to recognize and address the unique needs of ethnic minority siblings as caregivers. The present study investigated the amount of instrumental support and expectations of future caregiving responsibilities of adult siblings of persons with severe mental illness. Caregiving practices of White siblings and siblings of color were compared. Data was obtained by survey responses from 93 siblings of persons with severe mental illness. Participants were solicited from national advocacy groups, county mental health centers, and adult outpatient community mental health clinics from across the country. Bivariate and multivariate analyses indicated that siblings of color provided care differently than White siblings, there was a marked difference in the caregiving practices of siblings of color and White siblings, female siblings were more likely to spend time caring for their relatives than males, midlife roles (career, family, children) often competed with a sibling’s ability to provide care, and feelings of closeness to one’s family did influence the sibling’s level of involvement and expectations of providing care in the future. As the health care arena continues to advance, mental health providers and policy makers need to actively consider cultural diversity and ensure that their programs and policies incorporate this into their plans. As siblings increasingly begin to assume caregiving responsibilities, mental health professionals, policy makers, and researchers must broaden or update their definitions of “support system” for adults with mental illness. Instead of turning to the aid of mothers and fathers out of habit, they are encouraged to look beyond parents, especially when working with families of color. Encouraging involvement from siblings as early in the treatment phase as possible may help to achieve optimal patient outcomes in the long run.