Background: As mental health services undergo the process of deinstitutionalization, this is resulting in a higher burden of care for relatives. Evidence suggests that interventions for carers have a beneficial impact on their psychological health. A reduction of responsibility for relatives is linked with a significantly improved outcome for the severely mentally ill. The aim of the study was to explore the relatives' experiences with severely mentally ill patients in different integrated care service providers.
Methods: Semi-structured focus groups and interviews were conducted with 24 relatives of patients receiving community based integrated care for severe mental illness. The collected data was transcribed and evaluated using qualitative content analysis. A deductive-inductive approach was used in generating thematic categories.
Results: Four main categories were found related to the structural aspects of the integrated care services and for the experiences of the relatives within these services. Relatives reported that the services offered significant relief and substantial support in daily life. In addition, relatives felt a reduced burden of carer responsibility and therefore that they were provided with more protection and stability. This resulted in a sense of encouragement and not feeling left alone to face challenges.
Conclusion: Relatives are a critical resource for patients suffering from mental health problems and benefit from formal structures and interventions to support them in carer role. An important need is to ensure continuity of care for patients and the bridging of gaps concerning information and support needs for relatives when providing integrated mental health services in the community.