Mothers of mentally ill children often don't have time to attend support groups or can't afford the costs for their own counseling.
But emotional support for these mothers may be just a phone call away.
A study by a University of South Carolina College of Nursing researcher shows that regular phone calls from psychiatric nurses are a lifeline for mothers who often are isolated because of their child's illness and overwhelmed by the mental healthcare system.
In the cases of these mothers, their child's mental illness has resulted in their isolation and disconnection from previous support systems, including family, friends, work and even church, says Dr. Kathleen Scharer, a USC College of Nursing researcher who will present her preliminary findings July 20 in Montreal at the International Nursing Research Congress Focusing on Evidence-Based Practice.
Mothers are desperate for help, but often can't find it, she said.
The preliminary data show that emotional and informational support for these mothers is needed. Because of the rural nature of South Carolina and many other states, in-person support groups aren't a viable option for many mothers, she said.
'This study indicates that social support through telephone calls does help. It is a relatively easy intervention program that could be set up to help mothers,' Scharer said.
Scharer's research on the effectiveness of phone calls for emotional support is part of a larger study, Social Support for Mothers of Mentally Ill Children, funded by a grant of nearly $1 million from the National Institute of Nursing Research at the National Institutes of Health. That study is one of the first in the nation to examine social support systems, including a web-based program in which mothers and a psychiatric nurse communicate by e-mail.
Scharer examined data from 63 phone conversations of 16 of the 46 mothers who are in the initial study. The women, whose ages range from 26 - 62, are the maternal figure in the household - the woman who has custody of the child and may be the biological mother, grandmother, foster mother or stepmother. The group has an income range of $15,000 - $100,000; most have had some college education, and most don't have a spouse at home.
The children, whose ages range from 6 - 12, have diagnoses such as anxiety, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, biopolar disorder, schizophrenia, and intermittent explosive disorder. All of the children have had at least one hospitalization, but are living at home.
The mothers are facing serious hurdles with healthcare, and many of them also are dealing with the emotional struggles of divorce and custody issues, said Scharer. It is so hard for them to know where to go to get help for their child, and it's hard to find good counselors, particularly in small towns and rural areas. These issues happen regardless of economic level.
In Scharer's study, psychiatric nurses call the mothers every two weeks over a six-month period and provide guidance, information and emotional support. The goal is to increase the mothers' coping and problem-solving skills and help them deal with conflict resolution.
The common themes expressed by mothers include lack of adequate and appropriate mental health and other community services; inadequate funding for mental health care; financial problems, impact of the child's problems on the family and feelings of isolation.
The mothers spend a significant portion of the interviews talking about their children, many of whom have anger and associated behaviors, Scharer said. They have concerns about their children's medication. Fathers are rarely discussed, except in terms of their lack of involvement.
Nurses play a vital role, Scharer said, because they provide information about resources in the mother's community. They also help the mothers work on their coping skills, and they give specific advice and encouragement.
You can hear the empathy in the nurse's voice when she is talking to the mother, Scharer said. The mothers know that someone cares and is listening to their concerns.'