Vital support for carers of people experiencing mental health illness

Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust recognises the vital role that carers play in the recovery journey of people experiencing mental health illness and has developed a carer peer support programme across Hampshire’s mental health services, specifically designed with carers to offer them the support they need.

Each carer peer support worker employed has first-hand experience of looking after someone with a mental health illness and is there primarily to support the carer.

Ali Earle is one of the Trust’s new carer peer support workers who has lived experience caring for a loved one with a perinatal mental health illness (those which occur during pregnancy or in the first year following the birth of a child).

Ali, carer peer support worker, explained her role: “Supporting a loved one who is experiencing a mental health illness arising from the birth of a baby can be very emotionally demanding, and in some cases can have a knock-on effect on the mental health of the carer. We offer 1-2-1 support to carers either face to face, by telephone or via video call, and, having been through similar experiences ourselves, we understand what they are going through and can offer them guidance and support."

Ali and her colleague Chris Guttridge have supported over 150 carers referred by the perinatal community mental health team over the last year, 85% are partners of the women, 15% maternal grandmother. She recently supported Elizabeth, a mother and grandmother caring for her daughter after she had her son. She moved in with her daughter during the covid19 lockdown, at a time when many were unable to see their grandchildren. Despite feeling incredibly lucky to spend time with her grandchild, Elizabeth felt very alone, looking after her mentally unwell daughter and her grandson and needed support. The Perinatal Community Mental Health Team put her in touch with Ali.

Elizabeth describes the support she received as invaluable, “I was really struggling and then along came Ali, a carer peer support worker, and she just got it so right – just listened and I knew that “somebody” understood what I was going through. As a mother you think you should be doing these things in life, but sometimes your best doesn’t feel enough, and you need the support of others around you to help your daughter and the family – Ali was there when I needed her the most – I am certain she saved me from experiencing a mental health breakdown. I am so grateful that someone had the foresight to thinking about carers and put these positions in place for people like me to access this support when I needed it the most”

Carers play such a vital role in the success of recovery of their loved one; whilst the patient may receive only 1 hour a week with a clinician, the rest of the time is often at home; some 167 hours with their carer. Carers often feel unsupported themselves and by employing people with lived experience of caring primarily to support the carer, the trust is ensuring they are supported by those who have that unique insight into what they are going through, can be there for them and offer empathetic and practical support. Approx. 1 in 10 of the partners have their own mental health needs and they are supported through this programme.

Paula Hull, Director of Nursing & Allied Health Professionals for Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust says,

“We hear first-hand the impact these roles are having on our carers and their families, offering support at that crucial time when it is so needed and being able to offer that from someone who understands is very special to people.” We are 100% committed to peer support workers within Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, recognising the benefits for both our carers and the effect this has on their loved one’s recovery.”

The video of the Trust’s carer peer support worker can be found here:

This video was produced by Drop the Mask Productions CIC (A Community Interest Company)

  • Leadership and Management
  • Leadership and Management > Quality and Performance
  • Leadership and Management > Quality and Performance > QI
  • Mental Health
  • Mental Health > Carer support
  • Mental Health > Compassionate Care
  • FabChange21
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