BACKGROUND : Families of state patients experience challenges related to the patient’s mental
illness and history of criminal behaviour. Family members who act as guardians when patients
are on leave of absence take responsibility for the patient’s basic needs, activities of daily living
and treatment regimen. They need to safeguard the patient from potential self-harm and
harming others. Few studies have explored the burden these family members experience.
AIM : The aim of this study was to explore and describe the challenges experienced by families
caring for mental state patients who are on leave of absence.
SETTING : An urban area in South Africa.
METHODS : A qualitative approach was applied to answer the research question, ‘what are
the challenges experienced by families caring for mental state patients on leave of absence?’
A purposive sample of nine participants who were caring for state patients on leave of absence
was selected. Individual in-depth interviews were used to collect data. Data were analysed
using thematic analysis. Ethical considerations and trustworthiness guided the study.
RESULTS : Three themes illustrate the challenges experienced by family members, namely,
challenges related to state patient’s behaviour, emotional challenges and social challenges.
A fourth theme focuses on the ways families used to cope with these challenges.
Concluion : Mental healthcare professionals may use the results of this study to design
therapeutic interventions for family members of state patients who focus on empathetic
understanding and the mobilisation of effective coping skills and social support.