Why should collaboration between family members and care providers be promoted?
It is increasingly recognized that family members play a vital role in supporting individuals with mental health problems, since they are the main source of support in about 60 to 70% of cases. While family members have always played an informal role in supporting loved ones made vulnerable due to mental illness, today their role has shifted toward primary care. Partnership between health professionals and families of persons coping with mental illness mental has been promoted since the first social mental health policy was adopted in 1989. More recently, the 2005-2010 Mental Health Action Plan also reiterated this approach. While ministry guidelines encourage family members to be more supportive in a context of non-institutionalization, and hospitalization only as a last resort, recognition of the family’s role as an equal partner is a long way away.
Promoting real collaboration between family members and care providers can prove beneficial on many levels. To begin with, family members are the most likely choice to provide an individual having mental health problems with a continuous presence and support. Family members are the first to contact health care services for help in 30 to 50% of cases, and possess the distinct advantage of knowing the person far better than health care providers. By considering their contribution to the intervention process as being on par with that of care providers and individuals with mental health problems themselves, it becomes possible to develop services and interventions best suited to everyone’s needs, notably by significantly reducing the burden of the support role. Collaborating with family members would also benefit care teams, as intervention responsibilities are shared among all actors involved. Working together with family members toward a common goal (the patient’s recovery and well-being), is more favourable than working at cross-purposes. However, much remains to be done in terms of establishing a collaborative relationship between family members and care providers, as it requires completely rethinking their current relationship. How can we help recognize family members’ expertise? How can we share intervention power and responsibilities without negatively affecting the afflicted individual? How can we promote and recognize family members’ contribution while considering their own need for psychological support? These questions are food for thought in hope that this blog will be a place to share and discover creative and inspiring ways of working with family members regarding mental health care practices.