Key messages

  • Families and carers should be recognised, respected and supported as partners in providing support and care to consumers.
  • Families and carers should be identified and engaged as soon as possible in assessment, treatment, care and recovery.
  • Services must have clear processes and practices that support open communication with consumers, families and carers regarding information sharing, privacy and confidentiality.
  • Services are required to have regard for the impact of mental illness on family members and to assist families and carers to identify their needs, including in relation to the caring role.
  • Families and carers should be engaged in organisational practice and governance.

The principles of the Mental Health Act outline a vision for services that protect human rights and promote hope, recovery, capacity and autonomy. These principles recognise the importance of the wellbeing of carers and children, promoting and encouraging communication between health practitioners, consumers, their families and carers. While paying regard to consumers' preferences, families and carers must be meaningfully included in consumers' treatment and care.

Families and carers play a major and ongoing role in providing support and care to people with mental illness. An estimated 60,000 Victorians care for an adult with mental illness, and approximately 9,000 are young people under the age of 25.i Working constructively with families and carers is integral to providing high-quality specialist mental health care.

Clinical best practice requires identification, recognition, and involvement of families and carers, including children, across the service continuum. Clinicians need to actively engage with families and carers as an essential part of mental health service delivery and acknowledge that some consumers may not want their families involved and that some families may not want to be involved.

Partnerships between consumers, clinicians and carers should be based on mutual respect and recognition of the specific knowledge, expertise and experience that each brings. Identifying and responding to the individual needs of families, carers and children will lead to improved social, emotional and physical wellbeing and enhance their ability to provide ongoing support and care.

In line with contemporary standards for mental health, family and carer participation in service planning and delivery at all levels of Victoria's publicly funded mental health services is critical for building strong, sustainable and responsive services for the future.

About this guideline

This guideline provides specialist advice about involving family and carers in the treatment and care of individual consumers. Individual consumers include children and young people, adults and ageing consumers.

Families and carers often feel they are not acknowledged, and care relationships are not consistently recognised in Victoria's mental health services. Families and carers also report they do not always have access to information, support and skills to maintain their caring role or to support their own wellbeing. This guideline has been developed to address these concerns and provide clarity to clinicians and non-clinical staff in Victoria's mental health services on how to recognise, respect and respond to families and carers as partners in recovery and care. It includes guidance in relation to confidentiality and information sharing.

While the focus of the guidelines is on service delivery, the importance of family and carer participation in service design, development, delivery, evaluation and organisational governance is also recognised and encouraged.

Victoria's Mental Health Act 2014 includes specific provisions relating to carers. This guideline offers assistance to clinicians to understand and meet those obligations under the Act. This guideline has been developed with input from consumers, carers and clinicians across the developmental life course. The principles of identifying, including and supporting families and carers are particularly relevant to clinicians working with children and adolescents, as well as those working with adults and ageing consumers.

Scope and Focus

This guideline is specific to Victoria's publicly funded clinical mental health services. Mental health community support services (MHCSS) and private mental health services are responsible for developing their own guidelines (that, if considered appropriate, might be consistent with the ones described here). Victoria's public mental health services are expected to review their own procedures and clinical practices that address issues raised in these guidelines and reflect the policy requirements.

Sections

While the guideline can be read in its entirety, it has been organised into different sections that can be lifted out, copied and used in practice as prompts. The key messages, for example, could be copied and displayed to remind all clinicians of their responsibilities. The self-assessment tool provided at the back of this guideline will assist services to comply with these guidelines.

 


i This figure is derived from Diminic S, Hielscher E, Lee YY, Harris M, Schess J, Kealton J, Whiteford H 2016, The economic value of informal mental health caring in Australia: technical report. The University of Queensland, Brisbane.