WHAT IS KNOWN ON THE SUBJECT?: Existing literature provides insight into the general experience of carers of people with a mental illness. Previous studies have found that carers experience a range of emotions when looking after their relatives with a mental illness. However, experiences of carers as they engage with the healthcare system is largely absent from the literature. WHAT THIS PAPER ADDS TO EXISTING KNOWLEDGE?: This paper identified the experiences of carers when their relatives are experiencing a crisis or acutely unwell. Carers found themselves in the middle between mental health services and their relatives. Strategies employed by carers to ensure their relatives receive adequate care were identified from this study. This paper identified how carers needed to become more assertive in order to receive adequate care for their relatives, and this finding has implications for any future carer education. WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE?: The participants identified the need to work more collaboratively with carers of people with a mental illness as they seek treatment for their relatives in order to achieve better health outcomes for the patients. Improved health service engagement of carers was seen by participants to assist them to better care for their relative. The study also found that there needs to be a clearer definition as to what constitutes mental health crisis and how carers are able to intervene during this period. Services could provide clear information concerning crisis services and in particular triage.