This post, by me, first appeared on Scots Gazette on 29 November
The sad death of footballer Gary Speed has thrown mental ill health
into the spotlight again. As I write I do not know what led to the
death of a popular young man by his own hand at the tragically early age
of 42. However, it highlights the battles many suffer from illnesses
such as depression and the desperate challenges faced by their families
and loved ones.
I want to consider the issue of those who suffer mental ill health
and their carers. I want to talk about how important they are, how
important it is to look after them and how – when it comes to carers –
the mental health authorities are all talk and could do better!
Something like a fifth of the population suffers from mental illness
and it is estimated that in the UK there are 1.5 million caring for
relatives suffering in this way or from dementia.
Carers are a desperately important part of the support medical care
given to those with mental illness to allow their recovery or put them
in a position where they can cope with their everyday lives. The mental health authorities in Scotland have recognised the
importance of an informal network of unpaid carers as a crucial part of
the delivery of care and that they be” respected in their role and
experience receive appropriate information and advice and have their
views taken into account.” Which is apparently part of one of ten Millan
guiding principles which went towards forming the Mental health (Care
and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003.
Carers also face a tough situation. Sure they come in all shapes and
sizes and face an almost infinite variety of different situations
across a broad spectrum of severity. However, they all face certain
things in common. Carers all report feeling emotions of hopelessness,
fear, guilt and isolation. Often they find themselves utterly alone and
overwhelmed by a situation they feel inadequate to deal with. There is
also plenty of evidence now that their physical health often suffers as
Caring is a tough gig and it is important. But talking to carers
they all, consistently, complain of being kept outside the loop. They
feel they are not well communicated with about their loved ones
condition. They feel, despite the fact that they know them and their
moods best, their views and observations are not listened to and,
perhaps worst of all, they feel there is almost no information and
support for them.
One carer said to me, “the mental health profession is just a bit rubbish when it comes to looking after carers!”
This is a view many professionals working with carers sadly share as
well. I’m told by some people working with carers that the principles
of working with carers in Scotland have not yet been truly implemented.
And I’ve no reason to think England and Wales is doing any better.
More needs to be done.
To this end I want to praise the work done by Edinburgh Carers
Council (ECC). They recognise the need to look after and support
carers. They need the support and ultimately this aids the recovery of
the original loved one and patient. And this is more than a one hit.
As the medical model of looking after mental illnesses has moved from
complete recovery to finding a way of living a satisfying and
contributing life, so that ongoing support has to adapt for carers.
The ECC are developing programmes that support carers on an ongoing
basis. One programme I have come across is known as WRAP (wellness
recovery action plan). It has been adapted for carers and is about
supporting them and equipping them to support themselves. It aims to
give carers a range of strategies and routines which are about looking
after themselves. Eating properly and getting rest and exercise is part
of it. Making time for yourself and having routines to recuperate are
also important. This is about leisure and doing some of the things you
love. If you are not making a life for yourself you will rapidly become
useless to your loved one you care for. It is also about self esteem
and feeling supported; and it’s about giving access to information and
practical support to navigate the mental health authorities, to
participate in care and get answers and support when you need it. The
idea is improved physical and mental well being, less guilt, more energy
and improved relationships which all means being a better carer.
It is just one programme but it is giving real and practical support
to carers of those with mental health problems in Edinburgh today.
My plea is therefore this:
We need more of this for carers of all types.
The mental health authorities, who do a tough job and many great
things, need to be better in practice at looking after carers rather
than just talking about it in reports.
And, in these times of austerity, I can imagine programmes like this
could be in the frontline for being cut-back. My plea is that they are
vital and ultimately better value in saved resources and medication
bills as a result of the support carers give the mentally ill on their
journeys to recovery and coping.