Welcome to another blog post by mental health carer Matthew Mckenzie. It has been a while since I last posted a blog, but I have been quite busy working on my new online newspaper. I have also been busy with my caring role and I certainly admit it has not been easy, never is that role easy.
Anyway, what i want to do is raise awareness of the caring role. I want to try and lay things down straight and be as honest as possible, after all families and carers deserve this don’t they? Just in case I have not made myself clear. A mental health carer is someone (unpaid) who looks after someone they care about who is suffering mental illness, distress or problems.
Call it whatever you want, because I am aware of the stigma and labeling, but that is the role of a mental health carer. We are not talking about care workers, those are professionals, who are trained to do their role. I am talking about those within families, friends, loved ones all having to help those close to them to be able to cope.
Now that we have established what a mental health carer is, and I am sure there are plenty of books on the subject, we now have to examine what support a mental health carer needs. I have mentioned carers are not trained to provide support, we can go so far to say there are times when carers are not even supported. Perhaps a carer is not even recognised or told that their role is in conflict with their loved one. Maybe carers are told that they should stay quiet and not do anything.
The thing is that carers just try to get on with their role, but why people may ask? Why should families, friends and carers put so much on hold for someone? Isn’t it the mental health services job to do this? Aren’t they the trained professionals? The nurses, the care coordinators? the psychiatric consultants? Why are families, friends and loved ones getting involved? Its because they CARE!!
They are not there for the label, most carers are not there to soak up welfare or benefits. Mental health carers see their loved ones struggle and are not stupid enough to wait around for struggling services in order to provide that much needed support and care for those close to them. Carers are supporters, advocates, counselors, listeners even having to take on the role of being blamed.
Each time there is a serious incident, there is a stain on the mental health service, no matter where it is, reputation slowly gets ebbed away, people loose faith in the services, carers then begin to loose faith when it comes to mental health. Families then experience hardship and break down.
Who really pays the price.
Mental ill health can strike anyone, anytime and it does not discriminate. We all suffer from stress, worry and at times we feel low, unsure of what the next day might bring, but turn that up a few notches and who knows who will be the next service user. When mental health trusts or hospitals fail carers, then we know that carers and their loved ones pay that heavy price, but it does not stop there.
Families and carers start looking around for legal measures, costs mount up and the trusts in the end will have to fork out. Money of course cannot replace the loss of a loved one, but its all the family or carer could find in some form of justice. The cost is heavy and those who wish to invest in services begin to back away, who in their right mind would want to invest in services that have a high rate of serious incidents?
Its not all us and them
When a professional starts the journey into helping those suffering mental distress, they also have the good intentions, they want to make a difference, the mental health professional wants to make a change. The NHS is something to be proud of and has set a shining example world wide, but then what happens if mental health staff continue to see abuse and neglect? What happens if patient data gets lost and no one is told? what happens if there is a cover up and the family pays that heavy price?
We must think twice if mental health staff do not get demoralized and start to whistle blow. This then hurts the mental health service if staff members get disgruntled and are not supported. If staff are not supported, then how can they support the service user? How can staff support the carer? So then the mental health professional blows the whistle or walks away. Faith is lost in the system or whatever is left of the mental health system. What I am getting at is its not only the carer that suffers, but eventually the mental health professional, who get tired at being shouted at by the people they are trying to help.
More service users
We all have our limits, some carers are exceptionally strong and can deal with whatever is thrown at them. Some carers has broad shoulders, built like a tank and can stand fast. However let it be known not all carers can take the blows. Not all carers can make that noise where mental health professionals begin to pay attention. Not all carers can read the signs when their rights are being taken away or that they are being lied to.
Sometimes the lines are very blurred when a carer gives up and becomes….the service user. No one is in a rush to join the club of suffering mental ill health, but if carers and families get opposite of support and feel the world is caving in on them, then the carer will develop mental ill health. It does not make sense that mental health system is set up to include carer as the service user, if we support the carer/family or concern person in the first place then there is less of a risk families get destroyed.
Not part of the family
Mental health trusts should pride themselves on forming connections, bringing communities together and celebrating the hard won role of the carer. Mental health trusts should have that reputation of fighting mental health stigma, supporting loved ones and investing in services. What happens if the oppersite appears?
What if carers begin to band together and hear time and time again that they are not part of the connection. I have been to many events and meetings in the past and I often wonder why a carer event has hardly no carer turn up? Is it true that reputation shows there is no connection to carers that they stay clear of engagement? This goes to show that carers do not feel part of the family, carers feel their role is not celebrated or empowered, they stay away because they do not want to waste time anymore.
No hiding place
If all the above sounds depressing, what happens when there is no hiding place. Serious incidences flag up system failures. Warnings from those concerned are not listened to and people responsible carry on as if nothing has happened. We get the old “We are sorry” and “we shall learn from these lessons”, but it must be stated, there is no hiding place. The more that carers/families are not empowered and pushed aside, the more there is a risk of harm to others.
When such risks become complaints, incidents and tragedies, then the media gets involved. The media likes a good story, they like to see who was responsible and shine the spotlight on organisations or professional bodies that do not do their job. Are we to continue to hear stories of Southern Health, Mersey care, Sussex MH Trust, Norfolk and Suffolk? Whose next? whose in line for damaged reputation? There is no hiding place and time will tell.
If you want to know more then go to google and type “serious failures mental health trusts”
Carers deserve better
It is time we pay attention to those struggling so hard to do whats right for their loved one. Mental health carers and their loved ones deserve better, they do not deserve lies and statistics that do not add up. Carers do not deserve to be blocked out by confidentiality or blamed for being dysfunctional. Carers do not deserve to be thrown useless jargon that helps no one and carers do not deserve to be lied to regarding support.
Carers deserved to be empowered, they need praise that their role is vital and that they should step in if their loved one’s mental health comes under strain and that they cannot cope. Carers are NOT simple labels and relationships are complex. We deserve better, but for this to happen we need better carer engagement systems, better carer strategies and policies.
Good luck on your caring journey.