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What mental health nurses can do to support families

What mental health nurses can do to support families

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‘We talk about everything else, except the elephant in the room.’ – Terry Kettering

Lorna Downe was eight years old when she first realised something was wrong with her mum after she declared herself Queen of England.

It wasn’t until later when she learnt her mum had manic depression after overhearing her talking to her best friend.

In a moving presentation at Collab (formerly known as the Victorian Collaborative Mental Health Nursing Conference), Ms Downe shared her experience growing up with a mum with bi-polar, and the impact on her.

It wasn’t until she undertook a counselling course and her trainer read the Terry Kettering poem ‘The elephant in the room’, which triggered her.

‘This poem is about mourning. I didn’t know then what I know now. I was mourning but no one had died. I was grieving loss of my childhood and at times I still do.’

She recalled feeling scared and confused, compounded by secrecy and a lack of support for the family.

Now working as a Family/Carer Workforce Development Coordinator at the Centre for Mental Health Learning, Lorna believes families and carers need to be supported, as they too can experience trauma.

She said that mental health nurses can play a vital role in ensuring families and carers are supported.

She stressed mental health nurses aren’t required to be family therapists, but basic eye contact, introducing yourself and explaining your role is valued by families. She also says asking after them and providing information on navigating the system to support recovery is useful.

Additionally, the caring role often becomes part of a family member’s identity, and they experience grief when they’re no longer needed. She suggests listening and ensuring they have support and/or counselling is vital.

Lorna’s tips for mental health nurses:

  1. Speak with consumers about their family/kids and others in their support crew.
  2. Ask for contact details of family and ensure these are updated regularly. Ask consumers about information sharing.
  3. Contact family members or ask a family/carer or peer support worker to do so.
  4. Provide info about the service, key contacts in the team, roles, what to expect and information about recovery, and supporting recovery.
  5. Be a champion – encourage your colleagues to support families and encourage employ family/carer lived experience workers.
  6. Learn about ways of working in family inclusive ways.