Canadians who care for mentally ill family members face many challenges such as stigma and barriers in the mental health care system. The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) has announced that it will be addressing these needs through a new publication primarily aimed at mental health policymakers and service providers.
The National Guidelines for a Comprehensive Service System to Support Family Caregivers of Adults with Mental Health Problems and Illnesses was released during a celebration at the 14th Canadian Collaborative Mental Health Care Conference in Montreal on June 27, 2013. The document recommends many supports and services that caregivers may need to access during different stages of their loved one’s mental illness. It also deals with self-care for caregivers.
“Family caregivers can play an extremely important role in the recovery journey of those with mental illness, but it can also be a very demanding and draining task,” said Louise Bradley, MHCC CEO and President. “We are hopeful that these guidelines will lead to improved services that provide caregivers across the country with early information, guidance and support to care for their loved ones effectively and to ease associated stresses.”
The guidelines contain 41 recommendations meant to improve the caregivers’ abilities to provide optimum care to mentally ill adults, and take care of themselves. Canadian service providers, caregivers, adults with mental illness, and representatives of non-profit organizations provided feedback on a proposed draft of the guidelines through focus groups.
The guidelines include topics such as:
- How to incorporate family support into the provision of mental health services
- Implementing training and providing support for service providers
- Possible legislative or policy changes
“The recommendations for change in these Guidelines are exactly what is needed,” says Heather Lackner, Knowledge Exchange Lead at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and lifelong family caregiver. “Family caregivers need their helping role acknowledged and they need our support. These Guidelines are a step towards better health outcomes for Canadians. When we support family carers and embed them into the system of care, the whole mental health care system will improve.”
“Caring for a loved one with a mental illness can place incredible strain on families. I can speak with an intimate knowledge of the value these guidelines will bring to thousands of family caregivers across this country,” says Senator Denise Batters from her Ottawa office. In 2009, Senator Batters lost her husband, former MP Dave Batters, to suicide. “Every day, Canadians face the daunting challenge of helping family members recover from mental illness, encountering stigma and facing barriers to family involvement in the mental health system. These national guidelines are an important step towards giving family caregivers the support they need.”
MHCC says that the guidelines recognize that the unpaid care and support provided by family caregivers make a major contribution to the social service and health system. In 2006, researchers estimated that providing care for people with mental illness cost $3.9 billion.
“We estimate there are more than five million caregivers throughout Canada who must be supported, recognized and protected from the sometimes adverse consequences of having to care too much,” says Nadine Henningsen, Canadian Caregiver Coalition President. “These Guidelines reinforce the key actions contained in a Canadian Caregiver Strategy that the Coalition is advocating for. We look forward promoting the awareness and implementation of this important tool.”