Implementing national mental health carer partnership standards in South Australia

Sharon Lawn, Elaine Waddell, Taryn Cowain, Carol Turnbull, Janne McMahon

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Objective: The aim of this study was to describe the current state of carer engagement and partnership in two mental health (MH) services in South Australia and the implementation of the six partnership standards in A Practical Guide to Working with Carers of People with a Mental Illness. Methods: Anonymous surveys of carer experiences and clinician self-ratings of their own practice against the six partnership standards were completed by 94 staff and 58 carers within public and private MH in-patient units before and after exposure of clinicians to education about the partnership standards. Descriptive statistical analysis was performed and, where applicable, a comparative analysis used the two-sample Z-test of proportions. Qualitative data was analysed thematically. Results: Considerable gaps were evident between carer experiences and clinician self-ratings of their own practice. Overall, the surveys point to the lack of a consistent approach by both public and private services, and suggest potential barriers to fostering carer participation and engagement. Confidentiality was a particularly noted barrier to partnership with carers. Conclusion: Significant improvement is needed to meet the partnership standards. Brief exposure to the Guide is not, in itself, sufficient to effect change in the overall attitudes, skills and knowledge of clinical staff about engaging carers. Significantly more focus on staff education, clinical discussions and supervision is needed to meet the MH carer partnership standards. What is known about the topic?: Partnership with MH consumers and carers is an established key principle within national MH policies and accreditation standards. Family carers play an important role in supporting consumers' recovery, yet many carers continue to report being excluded, particularly by in-patient clinical staff. What does this paper add?: This is the first study to investigate the partnership standards in practice by comparing the perspectives of carers and in-patient MH clinical staff. What are the implications for practitioners?: Improving partnership with carers of people with mental illness will require significant MH service leadership support shifts in current practice and culture. In addition, a more nuanced understanding of confidentiality is required to overcome the barriers to involving family carers more meaningfully in care.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)880-890
Number of pages11
JournalAustralian Health Review
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


  • mental health carer
  • mental health
  • Mental Illness
  • standards
  • partnership standards
  • clinical staff


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