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‘Not a good person’: family stigma of mental illness from the perspectives of young siblings

Child & Family Social Work

Published online on


The purpose of this paper is to critically examine family stigma as one form of the stigma of mental illness in child and youth mental health. Presented are the outcomes of a thematic content analysis of in‐depth, semi‐structured interviews conducted with seven (n = 7) young siblings, ages 13 to 21 years old, with a brother or sister identified as having a mental‐health issue. The focus of the interviews was on the ways the siblings experienced their other sibling's mental health and how those experiences shaped their sense of self and family. From the analysis, young siblings had predominately negative experiences, struggled with making sense of their brother or sister and the family as ‘flawed’ against the mental illness as ‘bad’ and experienced considerable family stress and overt family stigma. Current practice theories fail to consider the complexity of these factors and, in doing so, fail to adequately explain the nature and extent to which stigmatization occurs for immediate family members. The importance of peer support and understanding stigma in social work practice with children and their families is discussed.