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.