Family and carers play a very important role in supporting people with a mental illness. The NSW Carers (Recognition) Act 2010 recognises this important contribution and places obligations on all NSW public sector agencies in relation to carers. Read more about the NSW Carers (Recongition) Act 2010.
Designated carers and principal care providers under the Mental Health Act 2007
The important role of families and carers is also recognised in the Mental Health Act 2007 (NSW). Many people believe it is important that carers, including family members, are given access to information that would assist them in providing care. However, there is also concern that patients have some control over who is provided with information about them.
The Mental Health Act 2007 balances these views by:
enabling consumers to nominate up to two ‘designated carers’ who can receive certain information about the consumer and be involved in treatment planning
establishing a process for identifying who will be the designated carer when the consumer is not able to or does not nominate a particular person
enabling consumers to exclude a person or persons who they do not wish to receive information about them or their treatment.
The Act initially used the term ‘primary carer’, however this was replaced in 2015 with ‘designated carer’. A second category of ‘principal care provider’ was also added in 2015. The principal care provider is the person who is primarily responsible for providing support or care for a consumer, and may be given similar information to the designated carer.
For more information about the rights and responsibilities of families and carers of people with a mental illness, see Amendments to the NSW Mental Health Act (2007) fact sheet - Carers and Families.
Support services and programs for families and carers
The Ministry of Health recognises that families and carers also need support. The Ministry funds the Family and Carer Mental Health Program which provides support and other services. Local health districts report regularly to the Ministry on this program to ensure that it maintains its high-level support and continues to be a priority.
Family friendly mental health services
Many community managed organisations have now moved towards family friendly mental health services. This means that health professionals should:
- get training which is inclusive of families and carers
- consider family and carers throughout the patient's journey
- support consumers to involve their families and carers
- give general information about illnesses, treatments and how the system works
- recognise family and carer needs, such as referrals to support, information and advocacy
- ensure they operate to the benefit and not detriment of families, carers and consumers.
In addition, mental health services are:
- designating comfortable visiting space in in-patient services for families (including toys for kids)
- adding a checklist in patient files for clinicians to ensure families and carers are included
- including key performance indicators relating to families and carers in mental health job descriptions and performance reviews.