THE EXPERIENCE OF PROVIDING CARE TO RELATIVES WITH CHRONIC MENTAL ILLNESS


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Abstract

Research on family caregivers of mentally ill relatives has historically focused on negative aspects of caregiving, often described as caregiver burden. The authors document caregivers’ perspectives on both the negative and positive aspects of caregiving. A qualitative approach was used. Data collection involved 20 in-depth, audiotaped, semistructured interviews focusing on caregivers’ positive and negative personal experiences with caregiving to a relative with mental illness. Caregivers reported common negative impacts but also beneficial effects, such as feelings of gratification, love, and pride. Main themes included stigma, systems issues, life lessons learned, and love and caring for the ill relative. This study counterbalances the predominantly negative consequences previously reported and adds to the emerging literature on positive aspects of caregiving. Mental health professionals need to help caregiving families make choices to improve their challenging situations and identify the rewards of caregiving, and to advocate for increased systemic supports to ease caregiver burden.

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