BACKGROUND: An increasing number of qualitative research articles have reported on relatives' experiences of providing care for individuals displaying suicidal behaviour. To contribute more fully to theory and practice, these reported experiences must be synthesized.
OBJECTIVES: To identify original qualitative studies of relatives' experiences of providing care for individuals with non-fatal suicidal behaviour and to systematically review and synthesize this research using a meta-ethnographic approach.
DESIGN: Systematic review and meta-ethnography.
DATA SOURCES: Literature searches were undertaken in six bibliographic databases (PubMed, CINAHL, Embase, PsycINFO, Web of Science and Scopus) and limited to peer-reviewed original studies. Eligible studies reported relatives' experiences of providing care for individuals with suicidal behaviour, published in English or a Scandinavian language.
REVIEW METHODS: One reviewer screened the titles, abstracts and full texts and then collaborated with another reviewer on excluding ineligible studies. A two-step strategy was used while reviewing publications: 1) appraising study quality, and 2) classifying study findings according to degree of data interpretation. This strategy was used for each study by two independent reviewers who subsequently reached a shared decision on inclusion. Noblit and Hare's methodology for translation and synthesis was followed in developing a novel theoretical interpretation of relatives' experiences. The concept of moral career was adopted in producing this synthesis.
RESULTS: Of 7,334 publications screened, 12 studies were eligible for inclusion. The synthesis conveyed relatives' moral career as comprising four stages, each depicting relatives' different perspectives on life and felt identities. First, relatives negotiated conventional ideas about normalcy and positioned themselves as living abnormal family lives in the stage from normal to abnormal. The first career movement could be mediated by social interactions with professionals in the stage feeling helpful or feeling unhelpful. For some relatives, this negotiated perspective of abnormality got stuck in an impasse. They did not interact with their surroundings in ways that would enable them to renegotiate these fixed views, and this stage was named stuck in abnormality. For other relatives, career movement took place as relatives re-positioned themselves as negotiating an alternative perspective of normalcy in the stage from abnormal to normal.
CONCLUSIONS: Interactions with other people facing similar difficulties enabled relatives to shift perspectives and alleviated experiences of distress.