Family relationships

Most of the people we spoke to told us about how their family provided support when they were in crisis, such as speaking up for them when they were unable to do it for themselves. Friends were also an important part of people’s support network during difficult times (see ‘Support networks’ and ‘Caring for someone with mental illness‘ for more about sources of support).

However, not everyone found their family supportive. Family problems and disagreements were a source of worry rather than a source of support for some. Catherine Y said there was no history of depression in her family and they were ‘quite appalled’ when she took an overdose. She felt her family didn’t understand her, and she felt unable to speak to them. Others believed that the family contributed to their mental health problems, particularly when they had experienced neglect or abuse (see for more ‘Childhood mental health‘).

Families provided support in a range of different ways. Sometimes families offered a place to stay, help with childcare, financial help, or simply were there to help when people were experiencing difficulties. During a crisis, family members were often the ones to alert a GP or psychiatrist that they had become unwell. Tania often went to stay with her parents when she had been unwell, and Helen and Cathy’s families helped them buy a house. When Kathleen was in hospital abroad and her husband wasn’t looking after their children, her brother came and took the children back to live with Kathleen’s parents in the UK.

Tracy experienced severe postnatal depression when she lived abroad with her ex-husband who was in the army. She had no one she could talk to and her mother came over to help.

Age at interview 49

Gender Female

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For some people, just being around family could be a real comfort.

Catherine Y talked about the kind of practical and emotional support her husband gave her.

Age at interview 41

Gender Female

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Suzanne said all she wanted was to be around people who loved her. She describes having to go back to hospital and leave her family during Christmas dinner.

Yvonne described her family as a ‘rock’ and said that her husband ‘reads [her] very well’ as does her daughter. They seem to know before she does when she is becoming unwell. When Sunil and his wife were first married, his wife knew nothing about his mental health problems. But over the course of their marriage she became his main carer and attended clinical meetings about his health as well as Human Resources meetings with his employers.

Sheila’s husband is allowed to leave the psychiatric unit during the day. She took him fishing, which he used to love, and although he found it difficult, she tried to encourage him.

Age at interview 64

Gender Female

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However, people’s families weren’t always supportive when people experienced mental health problems. Family matters could add to the pressures people felt. Some people thought they had a responsibility to get better for their family, and this affected the decisions they made. For some their mental health difficulties had surfaced at a time of high stress, such as the birth of a child or during a marital breakdown. Helen lived with a husband who was violent and abusive towards her. She felt she had to cope with this abuse at the same time as learning to care for a child on the autistic spectrum. Jenny had ECT partly because she wanted to believe it would get her better more quickly but also because people said ‘your family needs you’. She wanted to do the ‘right thing’ for her family and not cause her husband any more stress.

People’s families often helped them access support, but sometimes they could be the ones blocking care as well.

Lorraine and Annie felt that their father stopped their mother getting the mental health treatment she needed, and was overly controlling.

Gender Female

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Depression, psychosis and anxiety

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Suicide and self-harm

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