Reaching Families Research Project

A study of best practices in disseminating information to families of persons with mental illness

Prepared by Sophia Kelly, DVATI for the British Columbia Schizophrenia Society on behalf of B.C. Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information with funding from B.C. Mental Health and Addictions Services.

Like many stigma affected populations, family members of persons with mental illness are hard to reach directly. They rarely self identify and may cope with stigma in ways that reduce their visibility. They may not be aware that services and information resources are available to them. They may not be connected with service providers.

Even when families wish to be involved in the care of their ill relative, service providers may be primarily focused on the ill relative, and often do not provide referral or information to family supporters.  

Family members of persons not yet ill or diagnosed are even harder to identify as they are essentially general population. Reaching out to families cost-effectively is a real challenge for organizations trying to help.

The Reaching Families research project’s goal is to identify cost-effective strategies for helping these targeted stigma-affected groups learn about available resources for them.

The goals of the project include providing:

  • Distribution plans of known effectiveness for use by organizations providing services / information to families.
  • Opportunities to combine forces with other agencies to increase ability to reach families with timely information.
  • Strategies resulting in more efficient and effective delivery of information and programs to target populations
  • Strategies resulting in increased value for cost associated with promoting programs to target audience
  • Strategies resulting in increases in cross-organization awareness of resources and referrals to those resources
  • Strategies resulting in increases in downloads of web-based resources
  • Strategies resulting in increases in self-referrals of family members to targeted programs and organizations

This study provides a literature review of issues affecting dissemination of resource and referral information to families and a survey of best practices from various organizations in B.C. and the US which provide and publicize services for families affected by illness and stigma. The first section of the report contains the literature review, followed by an analysis of the best practices uncovered, a sample generic distribution plan and some suggestions for centralized strategies. A focus in this study has been on identifying lower cost options in each area.

Download the Reaching Families Report in adobe portable document (pdf) format.

The following is a brief summary of the recommendations from the report. More information on the recommendations, methodology, research and implementation ideas are available in the report (linked above)

Brief Summary of Recommendations

The final recommendations from the project are due at the end of March 2007. Preliminary recommendations are:


Specific: Dissemination strategies should focus on a specific demographic and behavioural result. Communications and marketing strategies are most successful when they focus on a specific demographic and a specific measurable action desired.

Target most common caregiver demographic: Broader dissemination strategies should target the most common caregiver demographic, which is mothers aged 45-64.[1] Increased awareness of the needs and strategies to reach this demographic helps us more effectively put tools into the hands of family members who are already providing care and who will most readily use them.

 Measurable Behavioural Goal: Target of all dissemination strategies should be a single measurable goal – that family members establish and maintain contact and be open to receiving ongoing information (including referrals).

Enduring: Because of the high value and effectiveness of word of mouth as a family dissemination strategy, dissemination tools should be enduring, reliable over time and build an ongoing relationship with family caregivers.

CostEffective: Information needs to be delivered in a cost effective manner in order to endure as a strategy and reap the benefits of word of mouth support.

 Assertive:  ‘Push’ information strategies, where families opt to receive targeted and overtly family welcoming information on a regular basis.

Low Commitment: Anonymous and low commitment initial contact with family members to make it easier for families fearing discrimination to connect. The stigma affecting families of persons with MI means that anonymous and low-commitment strategies of seeking information are likely to be preferred by family members beginning their search for information and resources.

Multiply Stigmatized Families: Targeted dissemination strategies to multiply stigmatized families of persons with MI (Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons and their families of choice, persons of colour…) or families in rural areas

Warm, Assertive Outreach: Because of the effects of stigma on families, and their general lack of contact with service providers who may be assisting their ill relatives, family caregivers need a warm, welcoming and assertive (but not intrusive) outreach strategy. Warm, friendly and welcoming communications with families that specifically, clearly and visibly welcome family members and families of choice to break through messages around stigma.

Training on Family Stigma and Best Practices: Training on the results of the research, specifically how stigma affects families and affects the dissemination of information to families, including training on family friendly dissemination best practices.

[1] Statistics Canada “Who Cares? Caregiving in the 1990’s”, The Daily  August 19, 1997