Tips for Mental Health Professionals when dealing with carers

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I have decided to exercise my carers voice and produce 10 tips for mental health staff to take note of when working with carers. These are free for mental health professionals to explore and I have tried to keep them close to some of the aspects on Triangle of care from Carer’s Trust, which is an amazing piece of strategy geared towards supporting mental health carers.

 

1. Identify us

A critical component from the Triangle of Care and also a requirement when dealing with families and carers. Carers, especially those new to the caring role are not always forthcoming when being identified. I will explain this in detail later.

2. Communication is key

When carers are identified, then communication becomes an important factor. Families and carers are not always so clued up on NHS Jargon, keep it simple and in Plain English. Be patient and do not always assume carers understand you.

3. Be Compassionate

Not an easy trait to pick up even though you are working as a mental health professional. Carers can go through an emotional and difficult journey. Carers should not have to explain themselves to someone who just does not seem to care. Later on, I will explain this further.

4. Be professional

There are very good reason why NHS staff are called Mental health professionals. Follow trust protocols, deal with carers according to the rules and take them seriously.

5. Get back to us

No one wants to be left in the dark. If a carer requests some information and you have mentioned that you will follow this up, then keep your promise, even if your response is that such information cannot be followed up.

6. Engage with us

Another important aspect picked up from the Triangle of Care. Carers cannot just be identified and then not engaged with. Carers need to be visited to see how they are coping, carer details must be recorded and carers be given the chance to express their needs.

7. Keep up to date with your training

Things change, especially requirements set down from the NHS Trust you work for. Or NHS requirements. Carer awareness training is not and should not just be a tick box exercise. Care Act 2014 awareness, carer assessments, emotional support training and more should be considered.

8. Look after your well-being

If you do not follow up on your own well-being, then how can you expect to support others? Carers can pick up on when someone is stressed, worn out and falling apart. Practice what you preach and look after yourself, even though we know your work can be demanding.

9. Think about what you would want if you was the carer

Put yourselves in the carers shoes. What would you expect as a service if you was a carer? Think about how you are providing your service to others. No one would want support that is lacking.

10. Listen

Even though this is last, it certainly is not least. There will be a time when you might not be able to respond to a carer. There are situations when all the carer wants; is to be listened to. Most carers do not expect things to change overnight, but if you can just listen to us carers, it certainly makes a difference.

The ten carer engagement tips defined.

1. Identify us

It is fairly well known that carers, especially mental health carers do not rush to be counted. There is unfortunately some stigma attached to being a carer for someone suffering mental health problems. Lets be honest, people feel shame, guilt or even anger, but there are also other reasons why carers can go unnoticed. The health professional can unfortunately pay more attention to the service user, after all they are using the services right? However families and carers by definition are not using the same services as the service user, but they are all trying to get support for their own needs.

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This has all changed now, due to the Care Act 2014, it is the carers right to be identified, especially if their loved one is known to the service. Once a carer is identified and their details recorded ‘correctly’ on to the trust’s patient database, then the carer’s needs can be assessed. Failure to identify the carer can lead to a lack of support for the service user, it can also make the health professionals role even more difficult especially if the service user decides to disengage with services. This means that the Health professional would now have to rely on the carer.

Carer’s can be identified in a number of ways, especially if they visit the service user in an inpatient setting or attend meetings with their ‘cared for’.

2. Communication is key

At the heart of the mental health professionals role is usually communication, without understanding communication then there is a strong chance that no one will know what is going on. When I mean communication, I mean talking to the carer about their requirements and updating carers regarding information. Obviously confidentiality has to be respected, but when it comes to the carers needs then it should not be used as an excuse not to engage or deal with the carer.

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Communication is not only about what is being told to the carer, but how the carer is communicated with. Body language, tone of voice, speed of dialogue all play a huge part. Written information is even more critical. Serious incidents can occur if communication fails and information is not recorded correctly. Mental health professionals should not assume things are being understood and there should be a chance to repeat dialogue.

3. Be Compassionate

This also is a big part of communication. Health professionals need to show concern and compassion since carers can easily pick up on if someone does not care about their distress. To be honest most carers can have insight into how demanding the health professionals role can be, we are all human and carers understand this. Still, compassion can go a long way into helping the carer.

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If you are not sure what I mean about compassion, I am talking about keeping eye contact with the carer when they explain their desperate situation. Avoid interrupting the carer or dismissing them.  It’s important the health professional acts concerned and takes carers seriously. Think about therapeutic engagement when dealing with carers, their world is almost falling apart and they are looking to you in order to get support.

4. Be professional

When carers look to a health professional they do not approach a postman, road sweeper or baker. Carer’s have some idea what to expect from a health professional. I mean, the title of health professional says it all. The engagement process can easily fall apart if the health professional shows lack of competency, does not follow procedures or avoids responsibility. Senior staff wonder why there are a high number of complaints and most tend to boil down to members of staff not being professional or supported.

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Carers need someone who knows what they are doing and can act accordingly. It is true that some carers can be demanding and that health professionals are put under pressure, but we all know that once you have trained for your role in the health profession, then there should be little to no excuse in failing carers.

5. Get back to us

This rule is fairly simple. If a mental health professional says they will do something in dealing with a carer, they should follow this up. If follow ups are not done too often then the carer will feel they are not taken seriously and will complain or disengage with the service. Getting back to someone be it the ‘service user’ or ‘carer’ can also show a standard of professionalism.

It is important carers are not neglected, especially if a carer raises a serious issue where a serious incident can be avoided.

6. Engage with us

This tip is fairly similar to the first rule Identify us and is also related to one of the Triangle of Care principles. Carers must be engaged with and not left to cope by themselves.

There will be those who avoid the carer’s role because they hate the label, but this should not be an excuse not to engage with carers. Engaging with carers can boil down to simply meeting the carer, speaking with the carer regarding their concerns, noting down there concerns, referring carers to services and so much more. Carers and families can also be engaged individually or in a group setting.

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7. Keep up to date with training

You may have heard of ‘This is not a tick box setting’. Dealing with carers is not an easy task and carers can tell the difference between someone who is carer aware and someone who is not. This all boils down to training and we all know that a mental health trust thrives if their staff follow up on their training. Carers get the best support if health professionals take up carer awareness courses and other courses regarding the carer.

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8. Look after your well-being

There are times when I see a worn out health professional. As a carer I know full well that the staff member is suffering stress, anxiety, depression or fatigue. When I see such a situation, then I know that person is not supported in their role. This can create a lack of trust when I see the health professional suffering.

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We must take note that the carers impression of the mental health professional tells a lot about the mental health trusts ideals, it tells a lot about the mental health services brand. Those on the front line should seek support for themselves without having the carer wonder if they are able to take on another service user.

9. Think about what you would want if you was the carer

If you was to provide yourself with your own level of service, think about what you would like if you was the carer? We often do not think about the service we provide to others, after all we are not on the receiving end. If we stop to think about how we would want to be supported, then this would open up a lot of avenues into engaging and dealing with carers.

10. Listen

Above all, we should take the time to listen to carers, especially if there are confidentiality issues. Many complaints, failures and serious incidents boil down to not listening to carers and yet all we hear as an excuse is ‘lesson’s learned’. Well if the lesson was learnt in the first place then there would not be any complaints or incidents. Carers are tired of hearing “I am sorry, but we cannot talk to you” or “The service user says I am not allowed to speak to you”. Just listening to the carer and recording their concerns can solve many issues.

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The conclusion

These tips that I have produced are mainly common sense. As a carer of many years and continuing, this is what I would expect when regarding health professionals engaging or working with me. I have seen some pretty difficult examples, but I have seen compassionate and caring health professionals. I can only hope the health profession takes these tips to heart and these tips can and should be expanded on.

Elderly care

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