To have mental ill-health is not a crime or a character weakness. It is, after all, just an illness. Yet it can have devastating consequences not only for the person directly affected but for family members as well. CiP has heard consistently from its carer members how much their ‘feelings’ impact their working relationship with service staff. For those staff, the possible fragility of carers can pose a challenge. It is clearly desirable to make best use of family carers as partners in the provision of care. It is helpful therefore for members of the various clinical groups to know the issues likely to be affecting carers in any given situation; also, how best, from their point of view, to go about working with them. Over the years CiP has worked with universities and other educational establishments, with professional bodies and with the health and social care authorities to deliver what may be described as carer awareness training. This has fallen under a banner that has become known as“helping professionals learn from carers”.
Several carer members of CiP are involved with various activities of the West Midlands regional chapter of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, with the schools of nursing at BCU-Birmingham, Coventry, Wolverhampton and Worcester, the medical schools at Birmingham (CEIMH) and Warwick and the schools of social care at BCU, Coventry and Wolverhampton. Work has been done also with a group of academics at the Aston Business School who work with the health sector.
Family carers are of all ages and are drawn from all parts of society. Most did not choose that role as a career. Many work or have worked. Most have expertise – knowledge, skills or experience – beyond that of caring. A proportion – many are from the education sector for instance – have skills to offer that are well suited to working with the sector, for instance as trainers, facilitators, counsellors or mentors.