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Health Matters: Vow to involve carers in mental health support in the Highlands

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Carers are often unpaid family members or friends, looking out for the best interests of their loved ones.
Carers are often unpaid family members or friends, looking out for the best interests of their loved ones.

Our community mental health team see many people with diverse needs across Highland every week, writes Linda Stevens.

This can be face-to-face or virtually, for assessment and treatment including talking therapies with the aim of supporting individual care and recovery journeys. We also signpost many more people to other sources of support, including local support groups and online tools.

Did you know that involving carers in mental health support has been repeatedly shown to improve outcomes for people with mental ill-health? Research has consistently showed this, and it is something we try hard to do in NHS Highland.

Carers are often unpaid family members or friends, looking out for the best interests of their loved ones. They may not even identify themselves as ‘carers’, although their support often has a hugely positive impact on people.

They have told us that being a carer for someone with mental health difficulties can take time and physical and mental effort, and they are not always as involved as they would like to be. We always try to learn and improve by listening to carers.

Delivering mental health care has been more challenging than ever during the pandemic, with additional strain on resources, workforce and morale.

Nevertheless, we continue to involve carers as much as possible, even when a mental health crisis might make this difficult. During lockdown, a young man I shall call Boris was visiting close relatives when he experienced a severe deterioration of mental illness.

This was the first time Boris had experienced this, and his family told us they had no knowledge of mental health services or mental illness, and that they felt out of their depth.

With Boris’s consent, we encouraged and supported communication with his immediate, and also extended, family as we assessed and treated him, knowing that their support would be critical to his recovery.

Families are on the front line of mental health, and are considered the "hidden warriors".

I’m proud to say that over these pandemic months we have experienced positive feedback from family members, especially within NHS Highland, expressing that they have felt more involved and supported within the service.

On this particular occasion staff worked above their contracted hours to support Boris’s family so that he could be treated at home, and did not need to be admitted to hospital.

They told us: "NHS Highland mental health has gone above and beyond; exceptional standard of care and compassion."

This connection makes me proud of the job I do. I know that in some small way I helped this family navigate their way through an emotionally distressing and life-changing episode of their lives.

A small step for a mental health professional, producing a giant leap towards recovery for


Carers like Boris’s family are the most precious element in the alliance of people, treatments and services that support people to better mental health, and we will continue to do all we can to involve them.

* Linda Stevens is a community mental health nurse at NHS Highland.

Credit must be paid to staff working in care homes

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