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Dealing with a family member who has a mental illness was a long term, frustrating, and confusing process before acceptance occurred

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QUESTION: How do parents, spouses, siblings, and children manage their emotions over time when dealing with a family member who has unipolar depression, manic depression, or schizophrenia?


Analysis of data from 50 interviews, which were done as part of a larger ethnographic study.


Belmont, Massachusetts, USA.


50 participants (70% women, 96% white) were identified from a support group, newspaper advertisements, and recommendations from participants. 18 were parents, 13 were spouses, 10 were children, and 9 were siblings. Occupations were professional (26%), white collar (22%), clerical (16%), blue collar (8%), student (12%), and unemployed (16%).


Interviews were 2–3 hours long and were audiotaped and transcribed. Data on emotions that accompanied duty, obligation, and responsibility were collated and analysed to develop themes related to living with a family member who has a mental illness.

Main findings

4 stages in the evolution of the caregiving …

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  • Source of funding: not stated.

  • For correspondence: Dr D A Karp, Department of Sociology, Boston College, McGuinn Hall 426, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467, USA. Fax +1 617 552 4283.