People with severe mental illness such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are at a much higher risk of premature death in that they die between 15 to 20 years earlier than the general population. Heart disease and diabetes are the main potentially avoidable contributors to early death. Research that explores the experiences of people with severe mental illness highlights their struggles in engaging with health professionals and accessing effective and timely interventions for physical health conditions. This includes issues with navigating and accessing physical healthcare.

One of the consequences of such struggles is that people with severe mental illness relying heavily on support provided by informal carers (e.g., family members, close friends, loved ones). Despite this, the experiences of informal carers, and the roles they undertake in relation to supporting the physical health and medication use of people with severe mental illness, remains under-researched.

A recently published research study provides new information in this under researched area. The aim of this study was to explore the impacts of providing care for physical health in severe mental illness on informal carers. Semi-structured interviews with eight informal carers of people with severe mental illness in United Kingdom (UK) national health services was undertaken and the results analysed.

The main findings of the study were as follows:

  • Informal carers played an active part in the management of the patient’s conditions and shared their illness experience.
  • Involvement of informal carers was both emotional and practical and informal carers’ own lives were affected in ways that were sometimes deeply profound.
  • Informal carers were involved in both ‘looking after’ the patient from the perspective of doing practical tasks such as collecting dispensed medication from a community pharmacy (caring for) and managing feelings and emotions (caring about).

This study could form the basis and start of larger research projects with the eventual aim of informing health policy and making a difference in clinical practice. Ultimately, with purpose of making difference to the health of people with severe mental illness and their informal carers.

The study was led by Dr Dolly Sud and formed part of a PhD project that explored the lived experience of physical health by people with severe mental illness. The research supervisory team who worked with Dolly are a group of individuals with a mix of clinical practice experience and research experience in mental health.



Download the full study: The impact of providing care for physical health in severe mental illness on informal carers: a qualitative study

Download Dr Dolly Sud’s PhD thesis: Cardiometabolic risk, metabolic syndrome, and related diseases in severe mental illness: the role of pharmacy in the lived experience of patients