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Families call for mental health nurses to treat them as 'allies'


The families of people with mental health conditions have called upon nurses to treat them as their “allies” and to allow them to help develop future care models for the profession.

They also said relatives often provided the majority of care for people with mental health conditions and so wanted more tools to be equipped to do this and also opportunities to influence wider changes.

Speaking at a conference on the future of mental health nursing this week, one carer who had looked after people with schizophrenia and another with an eating disorder warned the audience of students that cuts to services meant nurses would increasingly need help from families.

“You as professionals – you need us. We are your allies and it’s really important that we work together”

Christine Lewis

Christine Lewis, who is also an activist in mental health, said: “Inevitably in the hard times [that] we are approaching with service cuts you are going to need – and so are service users – much greater reliance on service users themselves to manage their own conditions and us as carers to support them.”

Ms Lewis also said family members were the frontline carers and do “most of the work,” urging nurses to help equip them with the skills to carry this out.

“You as professionals – you need us. We are your allies and it’s really important that we work together,” she said.

A retired GP, whose daughter has schizophrenia, spoke as part of the same event and stressed the importance for families to be able to help develop systems of mental health care.

“As a family we are a very important part of my daughter’s care at a basic care level but also in terms of influencing change”

Dr David Shiers

“It is important for us as carers to give something back and contribute from our own experiences,” said Dr David Shiers, who is also a former clinical advisor to the National Audit of Schizophrenia.

He said: “As a family we are a very important part of my daughter’s care – with nurses and in collaboration – at a basic care level but also in terms of influencing change.

“The future I would like to see for myself, my family and future generations too is that I want to be part of it…When I look back at the experiences I have had working with great nurses, we have fashioned serious change. Both in terms of basic care level and at a wider level,” he said.

Dr Shiers also urged nurses to look after their own mental health, adding that some of the “scary times” during his daughter’s illness had been when they witnessed staff working within a “pessimistic” culture.

However, he said he had seen that culture challenged “successfully”, noting that the ability for nurses to do so was important for both service users, families and staff.

The free conference, which was attended by 500 student mental health nurses, was jointly organised by the Department of Health, NHS England, Public Health England, Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Greenwich.


Readers' comments (4)

  • michael stone

    This 'working with the family/laymen' is the same point I have been making re Last Year(s) of Life care/behaviour.

    It should be that everyone closely supporting the patient (whether the problem is mental health or 'dying') is part of 'a single team' - it shouldn't be MDT (i.e. 'the professionals') and 'the laymen', because that works against the necessary 'integration of the support team and support provision'.

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  • what happened to Family Systems Therapy?

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  • Our experience of a family member with an eating disorder has been incredibly distressing and she has nearly died on numerous occasions.

    We have 36 years experience of her illness. We have never given up on her. I am also a nurse who has nursed sufferers in an acute medical setting.

    If ever we raise concerns about her condition or care, which at times has been appalling, her team cause problems in our relationship with her. This allows her illness to flourish, she defends them against us and confidentiality is then used to ensure no accountability.

    We are convinced this is one of the reasons that mental health is the poor relation when it comes to NHS funding. Those battling with mental health issues are hardly likely to have the fight in them to question poor treatment. Alienating the family/carers allows the status quo to be maintained.

    Speaking to carers at a meeting recently we found out that we are not alone. It is utterly depressing.

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  • I agree. Confidentiality often acts as an aid to the illness and allows it to flourish, families and professionals need to be totally on the same side.
    The change from CAMHs to adult services are terrifying and the secrecy is already building again in my daughter's situation because "as soon as I'm 18 I can starve myself and no-one can do anything about it."

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