Friends and family
The family and friends of people who have lived experience of mental health problems can be an invaluable asset and resource for recovery.
SRN often use the term ‘carer’ to reflect the role played. By ‘carer’ we mean someone – a family member or unrelated – who provides unpaid care and/or support to a person or persons experiencing mental ill health.
Carers are individuals in their own right, and possibly the most significant, long term and reliable support available to the person with lived experience.
Anyone can have mental health problems but with the right support people can and do recover. Recovery means being able to live a good life, as defined by the person, with or without symptoms.
Recovery is unique and individual to each person, although there can be common elements and experiences. This section of the website has more information about mental health recovery. Voicing Caregiver Experiences is a good place to start if you’re looking for information about what recovery can mean specifically for carers. This website has lots of resources relevant for carers, including research.
SRN’s understanding of the carer perspective of recovery comes from our many years working with and listening to carers’ experiences. As with the people they support, carers’ understanding and experiences of recovery are unique and individual, and what helps one person won’t necessarily help another. However, carers have told us about some common themes and practical action that can help the recovery journey, as set out below.
Carers often describe how important it is to be aware of their own needs and wellbeing in order to effectively support recovery. SRN promotes self-management for carers, including Wellness Recovery Action Planning (WRAP).
Peer support can be a valuable resource. Carers describe the importance and value of sharing experiences with others who have had similar experiences. There’s lots of information about peer support on this website.
There are many ways in which people express their emotions and experiences. For example, if you’ve ever put pen to paper to work through difficult feelings, you might already know how powerful words can be. In fact, creating and taking control of your own story – in whatever form – can help people to experience recovery. You can share your story, read about other peoples’ experiences, watch recovery videos and listen to recovery podcasts at Stories and experiences.
Other ways people express themselves include visual arts, music, dance and theatre. The annual Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival is a national showcase aimed at supporting the arts and challenging preconceived ideas about mental health.
Knowledge is power. Having a good understanding of mental health and what support is available can help to put you and the person you support in the recovery driving seat. This might be about getting basic information about resources and services or accessing opportunities like courses or training, which are increasingly being made available at places like recovery colleges.
If the person you support accesses mental health services, these should work in a rights-based and recovery focused way. In practice, for carers, this would mean that you are recognized as a valuable resource and source of experience and information by the service providers, who would also consider your needs and encourage and act on your involvement.
Carers Trust Scotland have published the Triangle of Care, which is a guide to help healthcare professionals develop awareness of carers’ needs and recognise carers as partners in care. They have also developed the Carers Self-Advocacy Toolkit, a group of integrated resources to help carers get their voices heard.
Independent advocacy services are designed to help people share their views and participate in decision-making when they may feel unable to. Carers have a right to independent advocacy, as well as the people they support.
Care Opinion is another way to share your views and provide feedback to services you or the person you support have used.
The Charter of Patient Rights and Responsibilities has more information about what your rights are, and those of the person you support when accessing NHS services. The Patient Advice and Support Service (PASS), run by the Scottish Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) Service, can support patients, carers and families in dealings with the NHS. To find out more about accessing mental health services visit NHS Inform.
The Scottish Government, NHS and other care providers in Scotland have made a commitment to recognise and include carers. There is a national strategy for carers and young carers, and legislation for carers currently being developed in Scotland.
Equal Partners in Care – a framework developed to help implement the national carers strategy – is a joint project between NHS Education for Scotland (NES) and the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC), the bodies responsible for training and accrediting mental health and social care workers in Scotland.
Getting involved with a group or organisation that helps people to have a voice can be very empowering. Voices Of eXperience (VOX), the national mental health service user led organisation, have opportunities to get involved and can point you in the direction of local groups.
You might also be interested in taking part in the See Me ‘Movement for Change’, which aims to end mental health discrimination. There is also a growing online community of people sharing views and experiences and offering digital peer support. You can follow SRN on Twitter.