Family functioning in youth at-risk for serious mental illness

Compr Psychiatry. 2018 Nov:87:17-24. doi: 10.1016/j.comppsych.2018.08.010. Epub 2018 Aug 25.


Background: There is evidence that family functioning can be impaired in families of individuals with schizophrenia, first-episode psychosis, bipolar disorder, and recurrent depression, which are considered to be serious mental illnesses (SMI). Poor family functioning is one of the predictors of the course of SMI. However, it is unclear if poor family functioning is a result of illness, or conversely if poor family leads to higher risk of illness. Nonetheless, family functioning may be impaired even before the onset of illness, and little is known about earlier stages of risk and the importance of the family environment for youth at-risk for SMI.

Objective: The present study aimed to examine differences in family functioning in a sample of youth at-risk of SMI across different clinical stages compared to healthy controls (HCs).

Methods: Family functioning was evaluated with the Family Adaptability and Cohesion Evaluation Scales-IV (FACES-IV) for 41 non-help seeking youth with risk factors for SMI (Stage 0), 52 help-seeking youth with early mood and anxiety symptoms and distress (Stage 1a), 108 youth with an attenuated psychiatric syndrome (Stage 1b), and 42 HCs.

Results: Results from multivariate linear regression analyses showed that participants in Stage 1a and Stage 1b significantly differ from participants in Stage 0 and HCs on most of the family functioning scales. However, these results were statistically but not clinically significant as the percentile values for each group fell within the same clinical ranges. The only clinical difference was that participants in stages 1a and 1b were somewhat less satisfied with their family compared to healthy controls and stage 0 participants.

Conclusions: An examination of group mean values demonstrated no difference in family functioning between the different groups with all groups in the healthy functioning range. However, family satisfaction is lower in youth at-risk for SMI who present with early signs of mood, anxiety or subthreshold psychotic symptoms than other participants. Early family psychoeducational interventions could be beneficial to improve family functioning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Anxiety Disorders / diagnosis
  • Anxiety Disorders / epidemiology
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology
  • Bipolar Disorder / diagnosis
  • Bipolar Disorder / epidemiology
  • Bipolar Disorder / psychology
  • Child
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Family Relations / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Psychotic Disorders / diagnosis
  • Psychotic Disorders / epidemiology
  • Psychotic Disorders / psychology
  • Risk Factors
  • Schizophrenia / diagnosis
  • Schizophrenia / epidemiology
  • Young Adult