Family life is disrupted when a child experiences mental health difficulties. This can have long-standing effects on sibling relationships. This study explores the lived experiences of young people who have an adolescent sibling hospitalised for treatment of a mental health difficulty.
Semi-structured interviews of 45–60 min were conducted to explore the experiences of 10 siblings (6 sisters/4 brothers aged 13–22) of nine patients (5 sisters/4 brothers aged 15–17) receiving treatment for a mental health difficulty in a child and adolescent inpatient unit (IPU). Interpretative phenomenological analysis was used to analyse the data.
Two superordinate themes were identified: ‘Who am I if I’m not supporting them?’ and ‘On the fringes: actively involved but from the outside’. The interplay of these two super-ordinate themes was found to influence the five sub-ordinate themes: ‘Confusion and disbelief’, ‘Don’t worry about me, focus on them.’, ‘Powerless when I need to be powerful.’, ‘Helping or hindering- what is this place??’ and ‘Knowledge is power.’
Siblings described experiencing conflicting and confusing emotions which may impact their attendance in IPU and engagement in siblings’ treatment. Siblings of adolescents in inpatient treatment for mental health difficulties may be at increased risk of experiencing psychological distress. The mental well-being of siblings must be borne in mind by child and adolescent inpatient services supporting families in crisis.