The impact of a needs based education and carer support group for carers of people with a mental illness: A pilot study

Dr Julia Bowman
Dr Julia Bowman

The emphasis on community-based care in preference to hospitalisation relies significantly on the availability and willingness of informal carers (Goodwin & Harpell, 2006).

Whilst care-giving can be a rewarding and positive experience, a number of studies indicate that caring for a person with a mental illness has distinct challenges. These include difficulty navigating the mental health system, lack of respite, stigma of mental illness, uncertainty related to the episodic nature of mental illness and dealing with the consumer’s lack of insight or denial of the illness (Hunter, 2005; Shankar & Muthuswamy, 2007; Cleary, Freeman & Walter, 2006).

Furthermore, informal carers frequently report feeling isolated from usual sources of social and emotional support (Stephens, Farhall, Farnan & Ratcliff, 2011).

The aim of this pilot study was to evaluate the impact of a needs-based education and support group on the psychological well-being of informal carers. Participants attended a two-hour education and support group once a month. The group was facilitated by a multidisciplinary team from Blacktown City Mental Health (Western Sydney Local Health District) and the Uniting Care Mental Health.

Participants also had the option of receiving individual counselling, support and advocacy through the Uniting Care Mental Health Family and Carers Program. Outcomes were measured at baseline, 6 months and 12 months. Follow up focus groups were conducted to qualitatively explore informal carer’s experiences of attending the program and whether the program addressed their perceived needs.

Data was analysed using descriptive statistics and a time-series analysis to quantitatively evaluate the impact of attending a monthly carer support group. Qualitative data was analysed using constant comparison thematic analysis.

Preliminary results of the impact of the education and support group will be presented.

Dr Julia Bowman, Senior Lecturer, University of Western Sydney will present at the

13th International Mental Health Conference, “Positive Change — Investing in Mental Health” 6th to the 8th of August 2012, on the Gold Coast.

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