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Families must be involved by mental health services

Publication date: 29 Apr, 2024

The Mental Welfare Commission today published an updated good practice guide giving advice on how families can be involved when their relative is being treated for mental ill health and other conditions.

The guide is for family members, carers, and friends of people who are receiving care and treatment and for the health, social work and social care professionals involved in their care. The guide also gives advice for parents and young carers.

Some of the most common problems families have in trying to help their relative are around confidentiality and information sharing. It can be difficult for both families and professionals to know the boundaries of what information is appropriate to talk about, both with and without the consent of the person involved.

Health, social work, and social care professionals can discuss the individual’s care and treatment with their families, if consent is given. Where the person does not want information shared with their family, professionals should always listen to families and hear their views.

Families should always be allowed and encouraged to have open conversations with staff; families know the individual best and can provide valuable information that does not breach the confidentiality of the relationship between the individual and the professional team.

Suzanne McGuinness, executive director social work, Mental Welfare Commission said:

“This guide is essential reading for health, social work, and social care professionals, when considering confidentiality. It is vital that staff listen to families and their experiences, they have valuable insight into the person’s health and circumstances that should not be ignored. Involving family members wherever possible means it is less likely that important information will be missed.”

Kathleen Taylor, engagement and participation officer, Mental Welfare Commission, said:

“We often hear from families that they feel they are not listened to by professionals, leaving them feeling helpless and dismissed. Family members are often the people that know the individual best, so it makes sense that staff should involve them, to be able to give the best care and treatment possible to the individual.

"We also hear that families feel staff use confidentiality as an excuse to not talk to them. In these situations, even if there is no consent in place, staff should always talk to family members, and really listen to what they have to say. We want families to feel confident in being able to challenge the staff team when they feel they need to - knowing their rights around consent and confidentiality can really help.”