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New research underway to support carers of people with mental health problems

Posted on 24 March 2021

SPSW launch project to find ways to enhance the support provided to unpaid carers of people detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA).

A new project has just started led by the Department of Social Policy and Social Work at the University of York to find ways to enhance the support provided to unpaid carers of people detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA).

This NIHR School for Social Care Research-funded project aims to develop and evaluate a new standard of the Triangle of Care focused on the support provided to carers during periods of leave from hospital under s.17 MHA.

The project builds upon earlier research conducted by Emma Wakeman (St Andrew’s Healthcare) as part of the MA Social Work Practice (Think Ahead). She found that carers were often not involved in decisions about s.17 leave or supported during it.

The first phase of the project involves interviews with unpaid carers and workshops with mental health to co-develop the s.17 standard. The second phase of the project will test the standard in two sites and compare outcomes for carers in comparison with a third site. The project aims to establish the parameters for future research which can evaluate the effectiveness of the new standard in supporting carers.

“This is an exciting opportunity to enhance the support provided to unpaid carers before, during and after episodes of s.17 leave,”

said Professor Martin Webber, Director of the International Centre for Mental Health Social Research (ICMHSR) and Principal Investigator of the project. “For the Triangle of Care to work effectively, mental health professionals need to fully engage unpaid carers in decisions about s.17 leave and ensure that they are supported during it. We hope that this project will help us to move in this direction”.

“Too often mental health carers are left without the support, or sometimes even being informed that s.17 leave has been approved, which can have catastrophic and sometimes tragic effects on all facets of our lives, including employment, health and social lives,” said Cassandra Lovelock, a Lived Experience Advisor on the project and PhD student at the London School of Economics studying mental health carers. “This project is the first stage in adequately supporting mental health carers to maintain our own lives, while supporting our loved one on their hospital break. By being constructively involved in Leave planning we can ensure the best outcomes for the service user and for ourselves”.

“I think the study is really important to enable people to get a better idea of what it is like to be detained under the Mental Health Act and the restrictions it has on both service users and carers,” said Keith Thompson, a member of the project’s advisory group who has been detained under the MHA and has experienced s.17 leave from hospital.

“I think the project will provide a better understanding for all people as to the restrictions of s.17 and what improvements can be made in the future,” he added.

The study is being conducted as a reform of the MHA is underway. One of its aims is to put people at the centre of decisions about their own care. The study team are keeping themselves appraised of progress with the reforms to ensure that the project feeds in to the revised mental health legislation.

The project co-investigators are Dr Nicola Moran (ICMHSR), Dr Ruth Naughton-Doe (ICMHSR) and Dr Mark Wilberforce (Social Policy Research Unit) at the University of York; Emma Wakeman (St Andrew’s Healthcare) and Laura Bennett (Carers Trust).

The participating sites are Humber Teaching NHS Foundation Trust, Tees Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust and St Andrew’s Healthcare. The project is funded by NIHR School for Social Care Research and will be completed in March 2023.