‘And carers’… thoughts on the Mental Health Taskforce Report

I travel a lot. Not fun travel like “oh I just popped to Marrakech for the weekend” travel, but travel for work as in “yes I’m in Darlington today then I’ve got to get to Taunton tomorrow” – that sort of travel. The travel has a purpose (I don’t just have the weirdest idea of ‘fun’ ever), the purpose is carers, the purpose is inclusion, the purpose is change, the purpose is the Triangle of Care. Most weeks of the year I travel around talking to professionals in mental health services to support them to include carers in their services more; the Triangle of Care programme works to ensure carers are included, informed and supported in their own right whilst being able to have the skills and knowledge to support the person they care for better. On my travels I find the majority of people get it: they get that it makes sense to give carers more knowledge about how mental health services work; they get it that it makes sense to get them support in their own right; they get that whole family working makes sense for all involved.

Let’s think about whole family working. The latest piece of legislation to affect those with long term health conditions and carers came into force in April 2015. The Care Act makes it pretty clear that whole family working is the way forward. This move towards recognising that long term health problems impact not only the person experiencing them but the whole family was significant as it will (hopefully) lay the ground work for a cultural shift to greater carer inclusion and support. So, when the Mental Health Taskforce published the findings of the public engagement I was optimistic; there was clear recognition that carers (of all ages) are more vulnerable to developing mental health problems as a result of their caring role, the need to include carers in care planning and the need to more clearly involve and inform carers. These were good signs: this was what I did all that travelling for, maybe those hours on trains and cold platforms were all going to pay off. I was optimistic.

Then, the final report was published. There it was, that word, the word those of us who work with and represent carers dread: and. “And carers”. That fatal term that places carers second, that doesn’t recognise their unique needs, the impact caring has on their wellbeing, the need for involvement and the need for support. The fact that they are the person with mental health problems come as a package, that what happens to one affects the other and vice versa.

There was clear recommendation which was welcomed which stated that carers should have information shared with them; although there were those familiar words: ‘where appropriate’. There was some reference to involvement but this was less explicit. There was just nothing specifically about carers’ needs in their own right.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are some really positive things in this report about how we need to educate people about their own mental health, about investing in young people’s mental health and about improving crisis care. I’m hopeful that by 2020 we will all be in a better place culturally about how we understand and view mental health. But, I do feel there is something a little old-fashioned and status quo-maintaining about the lack of carers in the report. I had hoped for a more whole family view of how mental health services should be.

I know that I will be told (and have been) that thousands of carers commented on this report, but as many people who work with carers all the time know, it takes time and support for carers to recognise and acknowledge their own needs and not those of the person they are caring for. This isn’t to patronise carers; we all do this, and if someone is perceived to be in greater need than us we will prioritise them. It’s why we all (what do you mean you don’t!) stand up when someone elderly gets on the bus; so carers are like the person standing up, even if they have a bad back they don’t look like their need is as great as the other person.

So, what do I do next? Well I get back on that train and keep travelling the country working with mental health services to include and support carers; they seem to get it in a way that sadly the Mental Health Taskforce didn’t.


Ruth Hannan is Policy & Development Manager (Mental Health) at Carers Trust



February 19, 2016 - Posted by | Mental Health

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