Importance of Family/Carers in Mental Health Services

In our #ebnjc blog series we have already celebrated children’s nursing; with blogs from Jayne Pentin, Kirsten Huby & Marcus Wootton, learning disability nursing; with blogs from Professor Ruth Northway, Jonathan Beebee & Amy Wixey, midwifery; with blogs from Louise Silverton CBE , Gina Novick & Lynsey Wilgaus, and adult nursing from Clare McVeigh, Professor Roger Watson, Professor Jan Dewing & Professor Elizabeth Robb

This week our #ebnjc December blog series concludes with four guest blogs on mental health nursing from Neil Withnell, Jessie McGreevy, Paul Canning & Peter Jones.

In our first blog Neil Withnell, Associate Dean Academic Enhancement in the School of Nursing, Midwifery, Social Work and Social Sciences at the University of Salford, considers the importance of family and carers in relation to mental health nursing.


Recognition and investment is welcome, but family and carers must not be forgotten

A blog on a topic as diverse as mental health was never going to be straightforward so I thought that I would stick to an aspect that I have an enduring passion for. I am passionate in recognising the invaluable role that families and carers have in supporting individuals with mental health problems.

The publication of recent papers,  Achieving Better Access to Mental Health Services by 2020,  No Health Without Mental Health,  Closing the Gap and The Five Year Forward View Mental Health Taskforce (which had a response from 20,473 individuals) all articulate the need for “parity of esteem” between physical and mental health services. I echo this as the obvious imbalance needs to be finally eradicated. Mental health problems are the largest single cause of disability in the UK, representing 23% of all ill health, and are estimated to cost the UK economy as much as £100 billion per year (Centre for Mental Health, 2010). Balance certainly needs addressing!

However, among the many themes in these papers (the need for early intervention, early recognition, tackling stigma, targets for waiting times and mental health promotion (to name a few)) I find very little mention of families and carers.

To miss them out at this stage is keeping them where they have historically been, largely unseen, unappreciated and taken advantage of. The unpaid, 24-hour care they provide, often sacrificing work and relationships is usually unrecognised and unrewarded.

Surely it is time to recognise the work they do? Let’s support them in their role. Let’s share our knowledge and skills (and their knowledge and skills) and embrace the fact that without them mental health services would be in a crisis that no amount of strategy documents could address. In short we must keep at the forefront of our minds, and our policy making, that families and carers provide a valuable service and ultimately enhance lives. Leaving them without acknowledgement and without the support to carry on we simply swell the ranks of people needing mental health services, as the huge resource of families and carers are themselves not immune to the stresses that can result in mental health problems.


Centre for Mental Health (2010) The economic and social costs of mental health problems in 2009/10. London: Centre for Mental Health

Neil Withnell is Associate Dean Academic Enhancement in the School of Nursing, Midwifery, Social Work and Social Sciences at the University of Salford, UK. He is a qualified mental health nurse with over 30 years experience.

EBN Recommends:

  1. Kurtz, M. (2013) ‘Cross-sectional study: In individuals with schizophrenia, duration and severity of mental illness, health status, mutuality, employment and household income influence quality of life ‘, Evidence Based Nursing, 16, (3), pp. 79-80
  2. Gulliver, A. (2015) ‘Cross-sectional study: A range of personality traits and health beliefs influence mental health help-seeking behaviour in young people’, Evidence Based Nursing, 18, (4), pp. 117.
  3. Haddad, M. (2010) ‘Cross sectional survey: Different attitudes towards mental health revealed in a survey of nurses across five European countries; more positive attitudes found in Portugal, in women and in those in senior roles’, Evidence Based Nursing, 13, (4), pp. 128-129.
  4. Gaskin, C. and Hardy, S. (2015) ‘The state of play in child and adolescent mental healthcare services (England): not in front of the children?’, Evidence Based Nursing, 18, (3), pp. 1.
  5. Dr Alison Twycross and Dr Peter Mills Podcast on Self harm within inpatient psychiatric services.

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