Newcastle leads national support for carers

The Hunter Institute of Mental Health has launched the Supporting those who Care: Partners in Depression National Program Outcomes report this week, showing the severe impact on the mental health and wellbeing of carers and the need for carer-focussed prevention programs.

The new report, which outlines the key results from the independent evaluation of Partners in Depression, will be celebrated today at nib's head office in Newcastle.

Australian carers are having their mental and physical health endangered by the burden of caring for someone living with a mental illness.

2.6 million or 12 per cent of Australians care for someone living with mental illness, and with an estimated 20 per cent of us expected to experience depression at some stage in our lives the number of people having some caring responsibility is expected to grow exponentially.

Director of the Hunter Institute of Mental Health, Jaelea Skehan, said that people who are caring for a loved one experiencing depression are often an afterthought for mental health programs, despite being a group with a high risk of developing mental illnesses.

“More than 70 per cent of people who live with or care for someone with depression, who attended the Partners in Depression program, reported levels of psychological distress – that were greater than the general population - indicating the need for immediate help.”

Ms Skehan said that she is proud to represent a program that was developed in the Hunter and explained that thanks to a $1.5 million investment from the local nib foundation, the Partners in Depression program was able to be developed specifically for these individuals in the supporting role. It provides them with the necessary information and tools to build individual and family resilience, and manage the impacts on their own mental and physical health.

nib foundation Executive Officer, Amy Tribe said supporting health and wellbeing programs for carers in Australia, such as the Partners in Depression program is at the heart of nib foundation’s charter.

“We recognise the need to support carers, as they are the quiet army of people who need to learn self-care to look after themselves,’’ said Ms Tribe. “We are proud to support Australia’s first evaluation program dedicated to those people whose needs are so often forgotten – the carers.’’

Partners in Depression Patron, Lucy Brogden, said her own experience taught her the value and need for an evidence-based intervention program that supports carers in their own communities.

“I only wish such a program existed when I was experiencing difficulties coping with my caring responsibilities - this program would have made my journey much easier,” said Ms Brogden. “This program helps to offer hope and encouragement to others, by targeting the specific needs of people who love, live with or care for someone with depression.”

Ms Skehan said that preventative programs, such as Partners in Depression, are an essential component of a cost-effective approach to mental health.

“It is always better to prevent the onset of mental illness, rather than having to pay more in the future to treat it”.

Partners in Depression not only provides outcomes for those who care for someone with depression, but operates by supporting the existing workforce with an evidence-based approach they could use locally,” said Ms Skehan. “It’s really important that the value of carers is understood and supported by governments well into the future.”

To assist people living with mental illnesses, it is important to ensure that those who love or care for these individuals are also supported and have the capacity and capability to fulfil their important role. Supporting those who care through evidence-based intervention programs will prevent the onset of mental illnesses in this vulnerable population.

Jaelea Skehan said that by assisting carers to develop skills to care for themselves, using a small proportion of the mental health budget, Australia will finally begin to repay its debt to carers and begin improving the mental health and wellbeing of individuals, families and communities.