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Carers and families

SANE campaigns to improve the situations that family, friends and carers of those with a mental health diagnosis may encounter, and to provide support and information.

Mental illness may have an impact on everyone close to the individual concerned. This can include family, friends and work colleagues. The degree of impact can depend on the relationship and the type of mental illness.

There is also a point where ‘being concerned about’, or ‘affected by’ someone with a mental health diagnosis, may become a situation where an individual or individuals take on a significant caring role for the person affected.

If you are worried about someone

Generally, the first point of contact for anyone concerned about a mental health issue is their GP. Sometimes the person you are concerned about may not be aware that they are causing concern, or they may be anxious about, or unwilling to, see their GP. However, encouraging them to go, perhaps offering to go with them may be helpful, and this may be sufficient to encourage them to attend for an appointment.

If the person is unwilling to attend the doctor themselves, you may wish make an appointment with their GP yourself. The doctor will not be able to discuss anything relating to the individual about whom you are concerned, but you may find it helpful to share your concerns, the doctor will have been made aware of your concerns, and they may be able to offer advice or support.

Mental Health Act

If you are seriously concerned about an individual you can request a mental health assessment. Under section 13 (4) of the Mental Health Act 2007 the ‘nearest relative’ has the power to request a mental health assessment. This can be done via the GP, or through the local Community Mental Health Team (CMHT).

‘Nearest relative’ is a legal term. The relevant person is identified by law in the following order:

  • Husband/wife (this also includes civil partners and people who have been living as man
  • and wife for at least six months)
  • Son/daughter (if aged over 18)
  • Father/mother
  • Brother/sister
  • Grandparent
  • Grandchild
  • Uncle/aunt
  • Nephew/niece

If there is no one in the first category, move to the second category and so on. If there is more than one person in a category, the older one takes priority. (Only those living in England and Wales can be counted.) However, a relative who is actually caring for someone takes priority over all the others.

A person who is not a relative, but has been living with the person concerned for at least five years, can also be considered as the ‘nearest relative’

For many people, the first thing that alerts them to the possibility that mental illness is affecting a  friend or family member is a change in behaviour of the person concerned.

SANE believes that a reformed Mental Health Act should contribute to ensuring safe, compassionate care in hospital and other settings, using the least restrictive methods possible.

Patients need to be treated with respect, have their dignity preserved, and have their needs and wishes taken into account.

Families and carers should be involved at all points in considerations about care, including care plans, and there should be effective information-sharing between all relevant parties, as well as rigorous record-keeping.

Our own research over the years has shown that in over 70% of homicides by people in touch with mental health services, key factors identified by an inquiry panel were the failure to record and share critical information, and poor risk assessment.

The same study found that in more than half of the cases a key factor was failure to listen to the concerns of families and carers.

We believe that reform of legislation, policy and practice must be matched by the provision of adequate numbers of inpatient beds and supervised community accommodation, as well as sufficient numbers of trained and skilled medical, nursing and other staff in the mental health workforce.

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