Purpose France, once a pioneer in psychiatry, is now sinking as its population faces major mental health challenges. This includes the 12 Million French individuals with psychiatric conditions, the lack of appropriate structures and the shortage of skilled mental health professionals, but it also leaves families in critical situations. The purpose of this study is to explore the carers’ caregiving experiences and to suggest ways to organise educational programmes to support mental health carers in France. Design/methodology/approach The research was conducted from January 2018 to November 2019. It included French carers of patients with mental conditions. Recorded semi-structured interviews were used and findings were analysed through an inductive thematic analysis and regrouped into key themes. Findings Participants had overwhelming negative representations of “mental illness”. The fact that they were excluded from participating in the patient’s health management further added to their misconceptions around mental disability, it limited their communication with their family and amplified their burdens. Research limitations/implications There is an urgent need for carer empowerment; carers should be included in educational programmes, they should benefit from French Government subsidies and social-network assistance and receive quality assistance by trained mental health professionals. The critical situation of carers can only be addressed by combining these three steps and through the action of appropriate actors in the field of mental health, thus alleviating the current paradigm of psychiatric care in France. Originality/value Thousands of research papers regarding carers have been published in other countries. In addition yet, to the knowledge, only a few investigations on French mental health carers have been conducted to this day. The singularity of this research lies in the rare individual interviews, which provided us with first-hand testimonies of mental health carers in France. This data could be of vital aid for professionals and for policymakers when advocating for better support of carers in mental health.