The relatives of people with depression: A systematic review and methodological critique of qualitative studies

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Being a close relative of a person with depression can take a heavy toll on the former, but these relatives are increasingly made responsible for taking on extensive carer roles. Research on relatives of people with depression is currently dominated by a focus on “carer burden” and although such a focus can explain many relatives' experiences and daily lives, it provides very limited insight into the everyday life of a person living with someone with depression. Therefore, we scoped qualitative research on people who are relatives of people living with depression and identified knowledge gaps caused by explicit or implicit theoretical or methodological assumptions. We conducted an exhaustive literature search in CINAHL, PubMed, PsycINFO, Sociological Abstracts, and Eric. In total, 34 publications were included, their quality evaluated and their findings mapped and summarized. We identified four interrelated and overlapping themes that dominated the findings of the publications: (a) recognition of “depression”, (b) emotional responses, (c) interruptions of relationships, and (d) a staged psychosocial process. The vast majority of studies presented de-contextualized and underinterpreted analyses assuming a homogeneity of (illness) experiences and disregarded the important influence of social contributors to social relationships, connectedness, and mental health problems.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalFamily Process
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 21 Aug 2023


  • depression
  • family relationships
  • qualitative research
  • relatives
  • scoping literature review
  • sociology
  • theory and method development

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