Managing early warning signs is an effective approach to preventing relapse in bipolar disorder. Involving relatives in relapse prevention has been shown to maximize the effectiveness of this approach. However, family-focused intervention research has typically used expert therapists, who are rarely available within routine clinical services. It remains unknown what issues exist when involving relatives in relapse prevention planning delivered by community mental health case managers. This study explored the value and barriers of involving relatives in relapse prevention from the perspectives of service users, relatives and care-coordinators.
Qualitative interview study nested within a randomized controlled trial of relapse prevention for individuals with bipolar disorder. The purposive sample of 52 participants comprised service users (n = 21), care coordinators (n = 21) and relatives (n = 10). Data were analyzed using a grounded theory approach.
All parties identified benefits of involving relatives in relapse prevention: improved understanding of bipolar disorder; relatives gaining a role in illness management; and improved relationships between each party. Nevertheless, relatives were often discouraged from becoming involved. Some staff perceived involving relatives increased the complexity of their own role and workload, and some service users valued the exclusivity of their relationship with their care-coordinator and prioritized taking individual responsibility for their illness over the benefits of involving their relatives. Barriers were heightened when family relationships were poor.
Whilst involving relatives in relapse prevention has perceived value, it can increase the complexity of managing bipolar disorder for each party. In order to fully realize the benefits of involving relatives in relapse prevention, additional training and support for community care coordinators is needed.