Life-sharing experiences of relatives of persons with severe mental illness – a phenomenographic study
Relatives of those suffering from severe mental illness experience multiple challenges and a complex life situation. The aim of this study was to describe life-sharing experiences from the perspective of relatives of someone with severe mental illness. A qualitative, descriptive study was performed, and interviews were carried out with eighteen relatives of persons with severe mental illness. A phenomenographic analysis, according to the steps described by Dahlgren and Fallsberg, was used to describe the relatives' conceptions of their situation. The findings show that the experiences of these relatives can be summarized in one main category: ‘The art of balancing between multiple concerns’. Two descriptive categories emerged: ‘Making choices on behalf of others and oneself’ and ‘Constantly struggling between opposing feelings and between reflections’. Relatives report that they have to manoeuvre between different ways to act and to prioritize between different wishes and needs. In addition, they face a wide range of strong feelings and they search for hope and meaning. Relatives of someone with severe mental illness have to balance multiple concerns, which induce ethical dilemmas. They felt love, compassion or sense of duty towards the mentally ill person. The changeable situation made it difficult for the relatives to establish a balance in their lives. To be able to prioritize some private time was important. Relatives need own support and sufficient follow-up of the mentally ill next of kin from the mental health services.