Does coercion matter? Supporting young next-of-kin in mental health care [2019]

Coercion can cause harm to both the patient and the patient’s family. Few studies have examined how the coercive treatment of a close relative might affect young next-of-kin.

Research questions
We aimed to investigate the views and experiences of health professionals being responsible for supporting young next-of-kin to patients in mental health care (children-responsible staff) in relation to the needs of these young next-of-kin in coercive situations and to identify ethical challenges.

Research design
We conducted a qualitative study based on semistructured, focus group interviews and an individual interview.

Participants and research context
We held three focus group interviews with six to seven children-responsible staff in each group (a total of 20 participants) and one individual interview with a family therapist. The participants were recruited from three hospital trusts in the eastern part of Norway.

Ethical considerations
The study was approved by the National Data Protection Official for Research and based on informed consent and confidentiality.

Coercion was not a theme among the participants in relation to their work with young next-of-kin, and there was much uncertainty related to whether these young people need special support to deal with the coercive treatment of their close relative. Despite the uncertainty, the study indicated a need for more information and emotional support among the youth.

Few studies have addressed the potential impact of coercive treatment of a close family member on young next-of-kin. The findings were consistent with existing research but highlighted disagreement and uncertainty among the children-responsible staff about to what extent the young next-of-kin should visit and whether they should enter the ward unit or not. We identified ethical challenges for the children-responsible staff related to the principle of not inflicting harm (nonmaleficence).

From the perspective of children-responsible staff, it appears that the coercive treatment of a close family member entails a need for extra support of young relatives both in relation to information and the facilitation of visits, but more systematic knowledge about these issues is needed.

Elin Håkonsen Martinsen, Bente Weimand, Reidun Norvoll
Nursing Ethics, September 9, 2019