The Burden of Sympathy: How Families Cope with Mental Illness

Front Cover
Oxford University Press, Mar 15, 2002 - Family & Relationships - 319 pages
4 Reviews
In this vivid and thoughtful study, David Karp chronicles the experiences of the family members of the mentally ill, and how they draw "boundaries of sympathy" to avoid being engulfed by the day-to-day suffering of a loved one.
Working from sixty extensive interviews, the author reveals striking similarities in the experiences of caregivers: the feelings of shame, fear, guilt and powerlessness in the face of a socially stigmatized illness; the frustration of navigating the complex network of bureaucracies that govern the mental health system; and most of all, the difficulty negotiating an "appropriate" level of involvement with the mentally ill loved one while maintaining enough distance for personal health. Throughout, Karp sensitively explores the overarching question of how people strike equilibrium between reason and emotion, between head and heart, when caring for a catastrophically ill person. The book concludes with a critical look at what it means to be a moral and caring person at the turn of the century in America, when powerful cultural messages spell out two contradictory imperatives: pursue personal fulfillment at any cost and care for the family at any cost.
An insightful, deeply caring look at mental illness and at the larger picture of contemporary values, The Burden of Sympathy is required reading for caregivers of all kinds, and for anyone seeking broader understanding of human responsibility in the postmodern world.

What people are saying - Write a review

Review: The Burden of Sympathy: How Families Cope with Mental Illness

User Review  - Goodreads

Very thorough analysis with clear personal experiences which are easy to relate to. Good for both those experiencing these very serious, difficult and life changing problems and those who are professionals in several fields. New insights obtained. Read full review

Review: The Burden of Sympathy: How Families Cope with Mental Illness

User Review  - Goodreads

Sad. Read full review


Illness and Obligation
Bearing Responsibility
Managing Emotions
Family Ties
The Four Cs
Surviving the System
Caring in Postmodern America

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

References to this book

Madness: A Bipolar Life
Marya Hornbacher
No preview available - 2008
All Book Search results »

About the author (2002)

David A. Karp is Professor of Sociology at Boston College. His book Speaking of Sadness: Depression, Disconnection, and the Meanings of Illness (OUP, 1996) won the Charles Horton Cooley Award from the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction. He lives in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.

Bibliographic information