Open Access Research article

With good intentions: complexity in unsolicited informal support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. A qualitative study

Nathaniel J Ward1, Tanisha Jowsey12*, Penny J Haora1, Clive Aspin23 and Laurann E Yen12

Author Affiliations

1 Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute, Australian National University, Ian Potter house, Cnr Marcus Clarke and Gordon streets, Acton 0200 Canberra, Australia

2 Menzies Centre for Health Policy, Australian National University, John Curtin School of Medical Research, Garran Road, Acton 0200 Canberra, Australia

3 Poche Centre for Health Research, University of Sydney, Sydney Medical School, Edward Ford Building A27, 2006 NSW, Australia

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:686  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-686

Published: 4 September 2011



Understanding people's social lived experiences of chronic illness is fundamental to improving health service delivery and health outcomes, particularly in relation to self-management activity. In explorations of social lived experiences this paper uncovers the ways in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with chronic illness experience informal unsolicited support from peers and family members.


Nineteen Aboriginal and Torres Islander participants were interviewed in the Serious and Continuing Illness Policy and Practice Study (SCIPPS). Participants were people with Type 2 diabetes (N = 17), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (N = 3) and/or chronic heart failure (N = 11) and family carers (N = 3). Participants were asked to describe their experience of having or caring for someone with chronic illness. Content and thematic analysis of in-depth semi-structured interviews was undertaken, assisted by QSR Nvivo8 software.


Participants reported receiving several forms of unsolicited support, including encouragement, practical suggestions for managing, nagging, growling, and surveillance. Additionally, participants had engaged in 'yarning', creating a 'yarn' space, the function of which was distinguished as another important form of unsolicited support. The implications of recognising these various support forms are discussed in relation to responses to unsolicited support as well as the needs of family carers in providing effective informal support.


Certain locations of responsibility are anxiety producing. Family carers must be supported in appropriate education so that they can provide both solicited and unsolicited support in effective ways. Such educational support would have the added benefit of helping to reduce carer anxieties about caring roles and responsibilities. Mainstream health services would benefit from fostering environments that encourage informal interactions that facilitate learning and support in a relaxed atmosphere.

Aboriginal; Indigenous; chronic heart failure; chronic illness; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; diabetes; qualitative methods; self-management