Providing support for carers in the Illawarra

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It is not only patients who need support when they are suffering a mental health issue, their carers also need tools to help them manage the pressures of their loved ones illness, says South Coast Private Hospital psychologist Merrylord Harb- Azar.

In response to this need the hospital has developed a personalised six point carer support program to help families better cope with a loved one’s illness.

Ms Harb-Azar helped set up and implement the program and is further developing and evaluating its success.

“We started consulting with the Association of Relatives and Friends of the Mentally Ill (ARAFMI) Illawarra, an organisation that supports carers.

“Through these consultations we discovered carers also required their own support and advocacy. We investigated how the carer can respectfully support the patient’s changes and provide them with new coping skills.

“Some of the feedback we received from the consultations included ‘I wish there was a direct line to a carer liaison officer’, ‘ways to deal with difficult situations’, and ‘helping me understand what my partner is going through’,” said Ms Harb-Azar.

The feedback helped guide the development of the carer pack, which is provided when the loved one goes in to hospital and also provides assessments of needs from meetings with counsellors through to follow up phone support.

Ms Harb-Azar said carers and patients involved in the program have exhibited reduced stress levels, improved response to the care they are receiving and better transition from hospital to home.

Feedback from participants in the program has been emphatic. Many carers reported improved relationships with the partners and children they were caring for as a result of the support they received.

A mother said her relationship with her mentally ill son had improved thanks to the support of the counsellors. She said having someone to talk through her concerns had helped and she now had hopes of a bright future for him.

Another woman supported through the program said counsellor support helped her feel more in control of what was happening to her partner after he was admitted.

Dr Harb-Azar believes the initiative has driven several referrals to the hospital since it was established last year.

“The more open and transparent families and carers are about mental illness the more successful the outcome will be for the patients. Providing support for carers during and post patient recovery strengthens wellbeing overall,” said Ms Harb-Azar.

Six step carer program:

  1. Referrals made by South Coast Private staff including, psychiatrists, nursing, psychology, general practitioners, reception, patients.
  2. Initial contact via phone by ARAFMI counsellor.
  3. Face-to-face appointments made.
  4. Telephone counselling.
  5. Follow up.
  6. Initiate where needed family conferences with treating doctor and/or staff.

Photo caption left to right: Corrine McKinnon – Quality Coordinator, Carol Woolley – Consumer Carer Advisory Group Member and Carer, Merrylord Harb-Azar – Psychologist, Suzanne Fruend – Mental Health Carers ARAFMI counsellor and trainer, Paul Lelli -Consumer Volunteer and Consumer Carer Advisory Group Member.

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