National mental health policy 2008

2.7 Carers

Page last updated: 2009

The crucial role of carers in prevention, early intervention, treatment and recovery will be acknowledged and respected and provided with appropriate support to enable them to fulfil their role.
Many people with mental health problems and mental illness receive care and support from carers who can be spouses, parents, other relatives or friends. Children and young people are often placed in this role. Carers play a crucial and often unacknowledged role in enabling people with mental health problems and mental illness to live and participate meaningfully in the community. Some carers also act as advocates, working with people with mental health problems and mental illness, their families and friends to achieve recovery goals, to influence policy and practice, and to bring about positive societal change.

Carers require acknowledgement and respect for the role they play. To perform their role effectively, carers must be able to access relevant information and services, whenever necessary. Carers also need to be able to access information regarding the treatment, on-going care and rehabilitation of the person for whom they are caring. This requires:

  • balancing the rights of carers with the rights of people with mental health problems and mental illness
  • clear definitions of responsibilities and entitlements
  • articulated lines of communication and legalised agreements regarding disclosure
  • information sharing.
Like people with mental health problems and mental illness, carers have an integral role to play in service planning, delivery and evaluation. Carers require education and training to undertake these activities and need to be able to access workers trained in the appropriate use of their expertise. Services must increase workers’ responsiveness to carers, and improve communication between these groups.

Being a carer can result in significant emotional, social and economic burden. Carers have their own needs, and are known to be at risk of experiencing depression, anxiety and stress. Carers’ needs must be recognised and their health and well-being safeguarded. This should occur through access to information, resources and support programs, and, where necessary, to crisis assistance and respite care services.

The importance of extended family and community systems for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples has implications for the way in which the role of carer is viewed. The needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander carers have traditionally not been well represented by carer organisations, and alternative ways of understanding and meeting these needs may be necessary.