Date of Award

2-12-2008

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Counseling and Psychological Services

First Advisor

Gregory L. Brack, Ph.D. - Chair

Second Advisor

JoAnna F. White, Ed.D

Third Advisor

Roger O. Weed, Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

Michele B. Hill, Ph.D.

Abstract

The experience of having a sibling with a mental illness affects well siblings in a myriad of ways (Marsh, 1998). In the present paper the term well siblings refers to those individuals who have a sibling with a mental illness but who do not have a mental illness themselves. They face unique stressors due to disruptions in the sibling relationship and in the family (Corrigan & Miller, 2004). The stressors commonly experienced by well siblings include stigma, objective and subjective burden, intense and conflicting emotions, disruptions in family of origin, interpersonal and intrapersonal difficulties, difficulties with the mental health system, and over reliance on maladaptive stress coping resources (Greenberg, Kim, & Greenley, 1997; Lukens, Thorning, & Lohrer, 2004; Marsh, 1998; Marsh & Dickens, 1997b; Riebschleger, 1991). Research describing disruptions in family of origin suggests that well siblings also are experiencing emotional neglect (Lukens et al.; Marsh; Marsh & Dickens). This paper presents a synthesis of literature on the stressors well siblings experience and their attempts at coping with stress. For this study, 133 participants completed 3 instruments: (a) demographics questionnaire, (b) the Coping Resources Inventory for Stress (Matheny, Curlette, Aycock, Pugh, & Taylor, 1987), a measure of perceived stress coping resources, and (c), the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (Bernstein & Fink, 1998), which includes an emotional neglect scale. Participants with siblings with a mental illness were compared with participants whose siblings do not have a mental illness. Results indicate significant relationships between well siblings and emotional neglect and between emotional neglect and effective stress coping. However no significant relationship was observed between well siblings and effective stress coping. Therefore, having a sibling with a mental illness seems a risk factor for emotional neglect, but is not itself a risk factor for poor stress coping. The present study suggests that it is emotional neglect which is a risk factor for poor stress coping. The clinical implications of these results are discussed as well as the research implications and limitations of the study.

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