THE BLOG

Nick Clegg's Mental Health Priorities Need to Make Carers Count Too

21/01/2014 08:42 GMT | Updated 22/03/2014 09:59 GMT

When someone in your family, or a close friend, has a mental health problem , there an impact on everyone. Seeing someone you care about struggle can be devastating , and often in the face of the stigmatising views and hurtful comments of others and little support from overstretched services. One in four people experiences mental health problem in any one year, and around one in a hundred experiences a condition like schizophrenia. Around 1.5 million people in the UK are carers for someone with a mental health problem.

If you're caring for someone with a severe mental health problem you'll know only too well the difficulties. Sometimes peoples' wellbeing can vary from pretty good to pretty bad in very short space of time, leaving little scope for roping in extra support. At worst, feeling abandoned, with no professional support, with someone who is severely unwell and perhaps at risk of harming themselves, can lead carers to breaking point. There's no doubt at all that it leads to admission to inpatient care which might otherwise be avoided. And inpatient care is exorbitantly expensive.

But we still struggle. NHS services, in particular, have a deep seated culture of focusing on the patient and being blinkered to the needs to the people who may be sitting right beside them. The people who are there day in day out, in person or at the end of a phone or text, who provide the real 24 hour emergency mental health care. Friends, siblings, parents, and even kids. Carers Trust's young carers services support children as young as 4 or 5 providing the emotional support to parents, which others can't or won't, often to the detriment of their own development, education or wellbeing.

Given that we all know how stressful it can be to support someone experiencing a mental health problem, but how crucial it is, why does the NHS still have a mental block when it comes to supporting carers? All too often carers are marginalised through perceived boundaries of confidentiality, are seen as in the way of the "real" professionals or labelled as the cause of the problem, despite often having huge expertise on what helps and what doesn't. And yet when the professionals and services go home or give up, carers and the person they care for are often simply left to manage as best they can.

A renewed boost for mental health within the Government's agenda is welcome. And today's "Closing the Gap: Priorities for essential change in mental health" may help to maintain the momentum towards parity in provision between physical and mental health. Hidden in there, at priority number 12 is a small shout for carers -an acknowledgement that caring for someone with a mental health problem can be exhausting but it's vital. You have to look hard to find it, but it's there. So a small, quiet tiptoe forwards for carers.

For the last four years, Carers Trust's Triangle of care project, has been determinedly working with mental health trusts across England to persuade them to take this issues seriously. Mental health carers need to be identified, staff need to be carer aware, there need to be more sophisticated protocols on confidentiality issues , and carers need to be properly involved in care planning rather than leaving them to pick up pieces with little information or involvement.

Mental health trust across the country have responded positively even within constrained budgets and overstretched staff. Little by little, progress is being made.

Today's announcement is only a tiny step in the right direction - one priority amongst 25. It will be easy for it to get lost within the vast array of other flashier objectives. It's going to be up to all of us to grab this opportunity to make mental health carers count.