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Families of patients with mental illness revised their ideas of what it means to live a “normal” life

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QUESTION: How do families manage the experience of mental illness?


Grounded theory.


A medical institution in the US.


29 family members (age range 18–73 y; 66% women; 66% white, 28% African-American, 7% Hispanic) of 17 patients who had schizophrenia, major depression, or bipolar disorder. Patients consented to researchers contacting their relatives. Family members had ≥1 weekly contact with patients. Most patients had a history of ≥3 hospital admissions.


Three 60–90 minute semistructured interviews were planned with each family over 2 years (soon after initial contact, at 6 mo, and at 1 y). Participants were asked to talk about their experiences of the illness, observations of social or cultural issues, and thoughts about the future. Interviews were audiotaped, transcribed, and analysed using the constant comparative method.

Main findings

The basic social problem facing families was living with the ambiguity of mental illness. …

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  • For correspondence: no information available.

  • Source of funding: National Institute of Nursing Research.