Aim. The aim of this study was to review research literature over the past 10 years on respite care for people affected by severe mental illness; and identify key implications for nursing practice in provision of respite care for family caregivers of people with severe mental illness.
Background. Family caregivers play an important role in health care, but need regular breaks to maintain their own health and well-being. Respite care is one of the few services available with a primary focus on supporting family caregivers. In most developed countries the notion of respite care as an extension of the health care service has been embraced, evidenced by a growing body of literature in health and health-related disciplines.
Methods. An initial literature search was undertaken using the key words ‘respite’, ‘short-term care’, ‘shared care’ and ‘day care’ in major electronic databases for nursing, psychiatry, psychology and sociology literature between 1967 and 2002, identifying 704 articles. Closer examination of the literature from 1993 to 2002 on gaps and trends in respite care for people affected by severe mental illness was conducted. This is discussed in the context of the broader literature, particularly on dementia, where the mainstream research on respite care is found.
Results. The majority of family caregiving studies identified a need for greater quality, quantity, variety and flexibility in respite provision, and the literature has remained largely silent in relation to those affected by severe mental illness. There are contradictory findings on outcomes of respite care services and a lack of controlled empirical studies and evaluative research on effectiveness.
Conclusions. Respite care is beneficial for caregivers, there is significant unmet need in provision of services for the mentally ill, and greater flexibility and the needs of caregivers should be recognised and addressed.