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Sunday, 27 May, 2001, 00:34 GMT 01:34 UK
Carers 'tempted by euthanasia'
patient
Many patients feel let down by mental health services
Many carers of seriously mentally ill people have considered helping their loved one to die, according to a mental health charity.

Gary Hogman, head of policy and campaigns at the National Schizophrenia Fellowship (NSF), says that in 12 years of working with the mentally ill he has attended many carers' groups and at every one someone has said they have considered euthanasia.

"Every time someone says this, another person says they feel the same and have felt guilty about it," he added.

He adds that it is "not surprising" since one in three mentally ill people have been turned away from mental health services.

Mr Hogman's comments come after the trial of James Lawson, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter over the death of his manic depressive daughter Sarah.

However, the NSF hopes various initiatives being launched by the government and voluntary organisations will help revolutionise support for carers in what has traditionally been seen as a "Cinderella service".

Helping hand

On 12 June, for example, the government's mental health csar Professor Louis Appleby is launching a leaflet aimed at giving information to the millions of carers in the UK who look after a mentally ill person. It will detail the kind of support carers are entitled to, including assessments of their needs.

Since April, all carers who can show they are giving "substantial" care and support can request an assessment.


They want to know what is going on and what their options are

Gary Hogman, National Schizophrenia Fellowship
Hogman says surveys show one of the key things carers need is information about their entitlements, how to care, how to cope with caring and training opportunities.

"They want to know what is going on and what their options are. It can take away a lot of their stress," he said.

He adds that previously the government has not advertised information about mental health legislation too widely in order "to save money".

However, he thinks it now realises that "more and more people are likely to be carers as people live longer and that they save the government billions of pounds in terms of social care."

National Network

The Department of Health is also involved in a national network set up by the Mental After Care Association (MACA) to share best practice in mental health care.

One of its founders in 1999 was Michael Bainbridge, then the mental care development worker for Somerset Social Services, the first place in England to have a fully integrated NHS and social services system for the provision of mental health care.

He has built up the number of carers and users being involved in decision-making processes by allowing people to contribute as little or as much as they could.

Those who could not attend regular meetings would contribute by being included on mailing lists for consultation about services.

Now the regional carers development officer for the South West region, Mr Bainbridge wants to extend carers' and users' involvement, for example, by getting carers to interview each other about their needs.

He is enthusiastic about the MACA network, saying it is also useful for establishing a dialogue with the Department of Health.

Well-informed

Beccy Ashton, communications head for North Essex Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust, has also backed the initiative from the start.

She is also involved in developing advocacy work where a health or social services worker may be in the position of supporting both carer and user.

This can create tensions, particularly where the user has some form of paranoia and thinks their carer may be trying to harm them.

This, along with the stigma still attached to mental illness, is one of the areas which makes mental health more complex than caring for a person with a physical health problem.

But health workers are at last optimistic about the future.

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See also:

04 Nov 99 | Mental health
Mental health: An overview
15 May 00 | Health
What causes mental illness
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