The lived experience of family members caring for a relative with mental illness

Abstract

Abstract: Mental illness may cause a variety of psychosocial problems such as decreased quality of life for the patient’s family members, as well as increased social distance for the relative and the family caring for a relative with mental illness. The family members caring for a relative with mental illness reported that they felt stigmatised as a result of their association with the person with mental illness. It seems that this burden of stigmatisation is more severe in low-income countries. It is aggravated by poverty and family members consequently suffer psychologically and socially due to living with or caring for a relative with mental illness. The purpose of this study was to explore and describe the lived experiences of family members caring for a relative with mental illness in Giyani, Limpopo province, and to make specific recommendations to facilitate the mental health of family members caring for a relative with mental illness. A qualitative, exploratory, descriptive and contextual research design was utilised in this study. The study took place in two phases. In Phase 1, a total of eight participants were interviewed. Data were collected by means of conducting individual, in-depth, phenomenological interviews, observations and field notes. The following research question was asked to individual participants: “What is it like caring for a relative with mental illness?” Data were analysed utilising open coding and an independent coder.In phase 2, specific recommendations were described based on the results of phase 1 The results of the study revealed the following: • Theme 1: Family members experienced being alert about the safety of their relative with mental illness. • Theme 2: Family members experienced that their relative was not mentally stable as evidenced by erratic behaviour. vii • Theme 3: Family members experienced challenges caring for a relative with mental illness. • Theme 4: Family members experienced coping strategies in caring for a relative with mental illness. Family members caring for a relative with mental illness were of the opinion that they were at risk of being injured or killed by their violent and aggressive relative with mental illness, and as such, families lived in fear. The family understood that their relatives with mental illness were mentally unstable as evidenced by their behaviour. The behaviour of the relative with mental illness did not only affect the family but also other people, including the community in which they lived. Family members experienced challenges when caring for a relative with mental illness. Challenges included financial challenges and caring challenges, which resulted in feeling obliged to care and exhaustion as well as rumours which were spread by the community. Family members experienced coping strategies in caring for a relative with mental illness. Family members showed a narrow range of coping strategies when dealing with their relative’s disruptive behaviours. They revealed that they prayed in order to cope with the situation of caring for a relative with mental illness. Specific recommendations were formulated to facilitate the mental health of family members caring for a relative with mental illness in Giyani, Limpopo province. These specific recommendations focused on reducing the burden of caring for a relative.M.Cur. (Nursing

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