The cause to which persons experiencing schizophrenia attribute their illness influences emotional and adjustment variables. This is also true for close relatives (CRs), who are important players in the affected individual’s environment and whose mood can influence the person’s day-to-day life or treatment adherence. Recent literature has highlighted a need to further explore the impact of causal beliefs on different aspects of recovery as well as on stigma.
The objective of this study was to explore causal beliefs about the illness and their relationship to other illness perceptions and stigma among persons experiencing schizophrenia and their CRs.
Twenty French individuals experiencing schizophrenia and 27 CRs of individuals with schizophrenia answered the Brief Illness Perception Questionnaire, which investigates probable causes of an illness and other illness perceptions, and the Stigma Scale. A semi-structured interview was used to collect information about diagnosis, treatment, and access to psychoeducation.
The individuals with schizophrenia identified fewer causal attributions than the CRs. They were more likely to endorse psychosocial stress and family environment as probable causes, while CRs mostly favored genetic explanations. We found significant relationships between causal attributions and most negative perceptions of the illness, including components of stigma, in both samples. Among CRs, having received family psychoeducation was strongly correlated with viewing substance abuse as a probable cause.
Relationships between causal beliefs about illness and perceptions of illness both in individuals experiencing schizophrenia and in CRs of such individuals should be explored further with harmonized and detailed tools. Assessing causal beliefs about schizophrenia as a framework for psychiatric clinical practice could prove useful for all those involved in the recovery process.