A research project at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, has followed young people with mentally ill relatives for two years, in order to study how they experience the situation, and what needs they have. The study, which has been published in the Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, contains witness from young people of the emotions involved watching a loved one become transformed by mental illness.
“These young people, from being a friend, relative or partner of the person affected, are forced to become their supervisor. This is a commitment that they have not chosen, and they take on full responsibility for it. They lack, at the same time, professional support”, says Ingela Skärsäter, scientist at the Sahlgrenska Academy and head of the research project.
The scientists have created a website at which young people have been able to receive training, advice and support. The contents have been created by the young people themselves, in collaboration with the scientists, and the pages have been adapted according to their needs and opinions. The value of the website has been scientifically evaluated through allowing one group of young people to use the website for eight months, and then comparing this group with another group that had received conventional support through printed materials.
The factors that were compared between the two groups included the ability of the participants to cope with stress, how many social contacts they had, how tough they considered their life to be, whether they experienced that their most important needs were met, and the amount of other care and support that they needed.
“The study shows that those who had had access to the project website had reduced their stress levels. But it must be emphasised that support over the internet is not sufficient. The young people wanted also to have contact with others in the same situation and real help in aspects of everyday life. They required, not least, psychiatric help that was not only available to patients but also considered the needs of relatives”, says Ingela Skärsäter.
The scientists are now transferring the website to the voluntary organisation Suicide Prevention Western Sweden, which works to increase knowledge of how to prevent suicide and attempted suicide. The website will continue under the name “Livlinan” and will be used not only to support young people who are close to someone with mental illness, but also to support young people with problems of their own.
“It is very seldom that research can be applied so directly, in a situation where the need is evident, and we are very happy that this is possible in this case”, says Ingela Skärsäter.
The article “Daily life for young adults who care for a person with mental illness: a qualitative study” was published in the Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing in October.