Expert answers from
Should mental health professionals talk to family members about their relative's diagnosis and treatment?
Professor Elizabeth Kuipers: Well the main answer to whether mental health professionals should talk to family members about their relatives’ diagnosis and treatment is yes, of course they should. But it’s a little bit more complicated than that because there are some service users who really don’t want their carers involved in any discussions. And so that’s where these things get a bit stuck, that’s where the whole confidentiality issue gets a bit stuck, because most service users are adults, and do have their own rights about what can and can’t be shared. There’s also an issue about mental health staff worrying about the fact that they must be very careful about what they say and don’t say, and it does cause problems.
Everybody who accesses mental health services, any services, there is a basic duty of confidentiality for everybody, and that’s an overriding starting point. And so making a decision to share any information with anyone else... everyone’s taught they shouldn’t be doing that. So that’s not helpful when families are intimately involved in the day to day care, when they do need to know what’s going on, what’s happening, and there are occasions when it can be really quite hard to transmit that information.
But no, basically, I think, they should have as much information as possible, and should be able to discuss it, and that was one of the first things we did with one of the first family interventions, was just give people information – to say this is the condition, this is what’s it’s called, this is what it’s like, and that was the point of it really. It’s very understandable that families can feel frantic if they just haven’t got the information and don’t even know where to start.
There are a group of service users who really don’t want the rest of their family involved in their treatment at all, and if they make that really clear then mental health staff do get stuck. Now that may be a temporary ‘we don’t want someone involved,’ someone may be acutely unwell and really perhaps very upset and worried about their family, or feel that their family have just got them into hospital and don’t like them or something. And it may well be something where things will change in the next few months, but if that’s the case, then, mental health staff can be very stuck about that.
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