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'Between a rock and a hard place': family members' experiences of supporting a relative with bipolar disorder

Purpose: Clinical guidelines emphasise the central role of family members in supporting people with bipolar disorder. However, there has been little focus on the challenges family members face in supporting their relative. This qualitative study explored the challenges of providing support to a relative with bipolar disorder, and how family members attempted to meet these challenges. Factors that helped or hindered their efforts were also explored, including experiences of professional support. Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 18 family members (partners, parents, adult children, and siblings). Transcripts were analysed using the Framework approach. Results: Participants faced numerous challenges pertaining to the nature of the disorder and specific illness phases, their relative’s responses to their attempts to help, and the limitations of support from healthcare professionals. Although participants were resourceful in managing these challenges, they strongly valued professional input. Six themes were identified: ‘Not knowing: like being in a minefield’, ‘It’s out of my control: sitting waiting for the next thing to happen’, ‘Treading on eggshells’, ‘Picking up on signs’, ‘Times of crisis: between a rock and a hard place’, and ‘I have to make my voice heard’. Conclusions: Family members supporting a relative with bipolar disorder face significant challenges but show considerable resourcefulness in managing them. The findings underline the importance of input from healthcare professionals to help family members effectively support their relative and manage the challenges they face. Professional support should be strengths-based, and tailored to family members’ needs.

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Type of Reference
Type of Work
Journal article
Springer Nature
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Issue Number
Journal Titles
Social psychiatry and psychiatric epidemiology
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