Author Q & A

Q: Why did you gather family stories about their experiences of having a family member living with bipolar disorder?

A: When I attended the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Family to Family class in 2015, I was inspired by people’s stories of their love and support for their relative living with a mental illness. These were stories of courage, devotion, and perseverance for “being there” for their loved one, despite difficult and extremely frustrating times. I decided to collect and write stories about the experiences of parents, partners, siblings, and adult children as they loved and supported a family member living with bipolar disorder. How did they cope? What were their sources of strength and support? How was the mental healthcare system helpful or not helpful? What did they learn about themselves? Read MinnPost article: Researcher's website presents family stories of bipolar disorder

Q: How did you find the family members to interview?

A: I sent letters of invitation via email to contacts I had in professional groups asking them to forward my invitation to possible participants. NAMI Minnesota included a short article about my study in their newsletter, which led to family members contacting me for an interview.

Q: What was your process for conducting interviews?

A: I contacted participants by email or a phone call to schedule an interview. I met most participants in local libraries and a few in their homes for their convenience. I received funding from the Chi-at-Large Chapter of Sigma (a nursing honor society) enabling me to give $50 to each participant. I obtained participant consent for the interview, recorded the interview, transcribed the interview on my computer verbatim, and then wrote the family member’s story, using many of their words. After the first interview, I sent the story via email to each family member I interviewed. In a second interview, participants made any corrections or changes they wanted and sometimes added new information. I finalized the story for approval by the participant.

Q: How long did it take you to complete the interviews?

A: Each interview required one to one and a half hours of participant time. Often the second interview was shorter in length. I completed all the interviews over 15 months.

Q: Who were the family members who participated in your study?

A: The 20 study participants (5 parents, 5 partners, 5 siblings, 5 adult children) were primarily Caucasian, college educated, middle-aged, and mid-level socioeconomic status. Five were men. One parent and her adult child were Asian, one participant parented a biracial adult son, and another parented two adopted African-American adult children. All participants lived in the state of Minnesota within an hour of a large metropolitan area, representing urban, suburban, and small town or rural locations. Since most participants were recruited via the NAMI newsletter, the majority of family members had actively sought out assistance and resources for coping with their ill relative.

The people I interviewed expressed gratitude for the opportunity to tell their stories. They expressed so many emotionssadness, grief, anger, frustration, disappointment. Difficult times led to new understanding and growthcompassion for others, learning self-care, and finding strengths in themselves and their relative. The most important lesson is we do not have to go on this journey alone. From these stories, we can all learn new ways of being and doing that help us in our own life stories of loving and supporting family members who live with a mental illness.

For more about my research and what I learned from the family stories; listen to this podcast interview.

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