The findings of this study regarding the viewpoints of the family members of patients with BD-I were categorized into five themes. Although qualitative studies do not allow for the identification of the extent and relative importance of every condition, recurrent themes and concepts stated by the participants at different individual and social levels were extracted.
Research suggests that there is a relationship between families’ knowledge and beliefs about the disorder and the patients’ medication adherence . The attitudes and knowledge of the family members have a significant influence on the patient’s own beliefs and attitudes and affect the patient’s decision about treatment compliance . In agreement with previous studies [19, 20], the family caretakers in this study were shown to lack sufficient information and knowledge about the nature of BD-I. In addition, many participants had inaccurate or false information and insisted on these false beliefs. A review study on treatment acceptance found that brief interventions focused on relapse prevention and psychoeducation-based interventions have the greatest impact on relapse prevention . Maintaining the patients’ circadian rhythms (especially sleep rhythm), controlling activity levels, verifying and controlling initial symptoms of mania and depressive episodes, and not using narcotics or stimulants have been recommended in approved psychotherapy protocols for bipolar patients . Nonetheless, the participants in this study did not discuss any of these important factors. The lack of knowledge about these important issues among families can have a significant impact on relapse and treatment non-adherence in the patients. These points need to be further emphasized in training patients’ families.
In a qualitative study on bipolar patients and their families, Peters, Pontin, Lobban, and Morriss  found that the viewpoints of patients and their families play an important role in managing the disorder; however, the families usually get despondent about participating in this process, and their perception was that some mental health workers believe that family involvement makes their work more complicated. Meanwhile, the present study showed that, in Iran, families do not have enough information about their role in preventing disorder relapse and attribute their patient’s relapse only to factors such as medication withdrawal, unemployment, lack of community support, and financial problems. Most of them believed that if everything goes as the patient wishes, the disorder will not relapse.
Furthermore, the participants did not have adequate information about the non-pharmacological treatment options available for this disorder and the role that psychologists can play in helping the patients enhance their medication adherence and prevent the symptoms of relapse. A variety of behavioral, cognitive, and emotion-focused interventions are used in the management of bipolar disorders . Nevertheless, the participants did not have sufficient knowledge about these treatments. The observation that many psychologists in Iran appear unwilling to participate in the treatment of bipolar disorder patients seems to play a role in this lack of knowledge. According to Farhoudian et al. , only about 1.5% of all the studies on psychiatric disorders conducted in Iran between 1973 and 2003 involved bipolar and cyclothymic patients. In a qualitative study on bipolar-II patients and their families, Fisher et al.  found that the number of resources available to patients for deciding about their treatment has increased and their priorities have been given increasing attention; yet, the patients’ and their families’ preferences are not fully considered.
Similar to the studies carried out by Jönsson, Wijk, Skärsäter & Danielson  and Shamsaei, Mohamad Khan Kermanshahi, and Vanaki , in the present study, the patients and their families were struggling with the acceptance, understanding, and management of the disorder. According to the participants, the families’ lack of insight into the patients’ disorder contributed significantly to their medication non-adherence. This finding is in line with Scott and Pope’s  research, but Delmas, Proudfoot, Parker, and Manicavasagar  stated that the rejection of treatment is a complex issue that depends on various factors.
Some of the results of this study are consistent with the findings reported by Clatworthy, Bowskill, Rank, Parham, and Horne , who noted that deliberate treatment non-adherence is associated with factors such as patients’ concerns about the prescribed medications and their side-effects in the case of continuous consumption. Proudfoot et al.  stated that the side-effects of medications, coping with unpleasant symptoms, the extent of awareness about the nature of the disorder, and the reactions to it as well as the stigma associated with the disorder affect the patient’s life path. Besides, these symptoms have a permanent impact on the disorder relapse . The findings showed that the interaction of the disorder, patient, medications, psychiatric attitude, and cultural attitude with non-compliance is very complex .
In addition to the themes mentioned, there were some interesting results concerning the response process in all the interviews. For example, the majority of the participants only reported symptoms of the manic episode, while two major studies [33, 34] have shown that people with bipolar I and II (especially type II) disorders spend most of their symptomatic days with depression. Patients suffer greatly during the depressive episodes but have elevated or irritable moods during the manic episode; in contrast, families find the mania symptoms more annoying and disruptive to themselves. This duality can negatively impact reaching a common understanding with the patient about visiting the doctor and taking medications. Moreover, the fact that some families do not have enough information about the depressive episode can eventuate in neglecting the patient’s need to take medications during this phase, which can then adversely affect medication adherence. These results are somewhat contradictory to the results of a previous study , which reported that both patients and their family members report symptoms of mania and hypomania to their physicians less often, as some of them enjoy the manic symptoms. Family members feel relieved when they see that their patient is happy and shows mania symptoms. A major cause of this discrepancy in findings may be the differences in the study populations. While Delmas et al.  studied patients with bipolar I and II, the present study examined only patients with BD-I. The discrepancy may also partially originate from cultural differences. It seems that when there is a pattern of greater attention to objective and apparent symptoms, very important mental symptoms such as suicidal thoughts, whether during the mania or depressive episode, are neglected by families.
This study showed that families with a higher educational and socioeconomic status tend to seek psychiatric care from different psychiatrists. Frequently changing the treating psychiatrist can cause treatment non-adherence in the patients. Furthermore, as the family members of such patients falsely think that they have greater medical information, they are more likely to encourage the patient to stop taking their prescribed medications.
A major limitation of this study was that most participants were the mothers of the patients, as it was hard to find other family members of the patients to participate in the study. For example, only one child of a patient and one sister were among the participants. Also, all the participants were from Tehran and were selected from one hospital; therefore, the generalization of the results to other cities in Iran should be pursued with caution.