When the word ‘recovery’ is mentioned in mental health, it usually refers to recovery of the person with the mental health problem. When families and friends are mentioned in this context it is generally in terms of how family and friends can support the recovery of the service user. This of course is all very important – family and friends play a key role in supporting someone’s recovery and it is essential that they are helped to learn skills to do this effectively.
We also know that coping with the mental health problems of a loved one is challenging, particularly if the problems are severe and long-standing. Family members and close friends can be traumatised by coping with odd behaviour, by some of their contacts with services, by seeing a loved one hospitalised against their will or taken away by police, and are generally worn down by years of caring :
Many describe a range of feelings such as grief, loss, anger and guilt:
Others mention issues with health services and professionals, often in terms of poor communication and not valuing or respecting their expertise as relatives, as well as confidentiality issues.
There is now a growing recognition that the concept of recovery is also important for carers, families and friends in their own right. Research papers and studies as well as evidence from caregivers own experiences, supporting the importance of recovery for carers, families and friends include:
‘Voicing Caregiver Experiences: Wellbeing and Recovery Narratives for Caregivers’. is a collection of narratives from caregivers both in Sussex and Scotland, as well as including some very useful resources on recovery and wellbeing for carers. This book was a joint publication from the Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and the Scottish Recovery Network. You can download all the stories here :
Do carers, families and friends think about their own recovery? – Meriden Family Programme study.
In the Meriden Family Programme, we did a small study where we interviewed 12 family members to learn about whether they saw the idea of recovery as being relevant to them. All were caring for a relative with a serious mental health problem, primarily schizophrenia and bipolar disorder for an average of 17.6 years. Many described feelings of stress, worry, depression, tiredness or exhaustion. Our team learned some interesting things from this study – find out about the more important ones here.