Family is critical in mental health

Positive family relationships can help people struggling with mental health issues, according to an expert who presented a public lecture in Bendigo.

'Realising the potential of family-based approaches' was attended by mental health service users and providers, as well as their families and members of the public.

Presenter, Dr Brendan O’Hanlon, from La Trobe University’s The Bouverie Centre, said families play an important role in an individual’s recovery from mental health illness.

“Research shows that a supportive family can reduce symptoms, increase the likelihood that medication will be taken, and lower the likelihood of relapse and readmission” Dr O’Hanlon said.

Dr O’Hanlon said being involved in diagnosis and treatment can also benefit the family members themselves.

“When family feel well-informed and involved, they experience less stress and burden, and even have fewer visits to the GP for their own health and wellbeing,” he said.

Dr O’Hanlon said despite all this, involving the family in mental health care is not yet standard practice.

“Family involvement in care is often minimal and, even though there are well established models for involving and supporting families, they rarely form part of standard mental health treatment,” Dr O’Hanlon said.

As part of the lecture, Dr O’Hanlon explored the obstacles to mental health services involving families – including time and workload issues, lack of training and individualistic culture.

He also discussed how people with mental illness, their family members and practitioners actually experience family involvement, and what can be gained by talking to them about it.

The Bouverie Centre is a specialist state-wide family mental health service, within the School of Psychology and Public Health at La Trobe University.