Many patients depend on the care and support provided by relatives and friends as much as or more than on the help of services. In order to investigate this role and the burden that it might entail, interviews were sought with those who actually played a practical caring role. Members of the research team asked people in the series and staff whether (a) the patient shared a household with someone, or planned to do so in the near future if living in a residential unit; or (b) the patient regularly visited the relative; or (c) someone regularly helped with tasks such as laundry, washing up or cooking. There were 79 such helpers, all but two of whom turned out to be relatives. One exception was a landlady who had for years provided a very disabled patient with extensive motherly support. The other was a friend who visited the patient every evening in hospital. He used to visit her every day when she was living at home, and helped her round the house when she could not manage. For convenience the term ‘relative’ is used to include these two.