Information for Friends & Family
How can you help?
Listed below are ways in which family and friends are able to help someone they care for who is emotionally distressed and anxious. Times like this can feel confusing and also make it hard to identify what needs to be done. We hope the suggestions below will be of help.
Get informed. There is a lot of information on common mental health problems (i.e. anxiety and depression) available from organizations like Mind, Rethink, NHS choices and Carers UK to start with for yourself so you understand more about what may be happening. Links are included at the end of this section for you to start accessing information.
Talk to someone. It is always ok to ask how someone is. Even if they don’t want to talk about it, they may appreciate you asking. Spending time with people can be helpful too, as many people who suffer from anxiety and depression report that others start to avoid them. Being around shows them you care, and this can also help you understand what is going on. However, it is really helpful to keep as much normality as you can such as not making your conversations predominantly about their symptoms or problems.
Offer of help. When people are anxious or depressed, they may struggle to do normal day to day activities or ask even ask for help. Look for things you can offer to do, like help with shopping, giving lifts to appointments, or even going for a walk together can be of great help. For many people who haven't had psychological help before, going to a first appointment can feel daunting and too much and they may appreciate support with this.
Listen. People generally feel better when they can talk about what is bothering them. They are usually not looking for solutions and for many people if this the first thing that is offered may stop them wanting to talk about their problems. Telling people to cheer up or get themselves together is also never helpful.
Looking after yourself. You can only help people if you look after yourself. You may sometimes have to say no to things in order to do that. Make sure you are eating and sleeping well, not overstretching yourself, and that you have the necessary support. For example there are a number of online forums where carers can support each other. If you do seek online support, do remember safety rules online and don’t give out identifying information about yourself or your loved one.
Confidentiality when accessing talking therapy
Anyone from a health service who works with a client is bound by confidentiality rules. This is necessary to keep peoples information private. In therapy, this helps people open up and share sensitive information that they may not discuss otherwise. For friends or family members, this can be very frustrating, as they may wish to know what is happening, but are unable to get this information. This section explores confidentiality and your options.
Anything that is talked about with a psychological therapist will remain private but there are limitations to this that will always be explained by the therapist with anyone accessing talking therapies at their very first appointment – see information on this below. This duty and obligation to protect confidential personal information means all staff must keep information secure and safe. This also means that conversations with Doctors, Nurses, Solicitors, Advisers and other professionals such as Therapists will be confidential.
NHS staff have to follow the NHS Code of Practice on Confidentiality. You can read more at Data Security and Information Governance. The professional accrediting bodies for Counsellors and Psychotherapists also have their own rules on this in their ethical frameworks, which you can see at:
BACP - British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy - Ethics and Standards.
BABCP - British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies - Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics.
Sharing information with consent
Should your friend or family member want you to be able to give or get information about their care, they can talk to us about this directly. They will be asked for consent to share information, which the service will make a note of. A service must usually ask you first before they share information. The client can limit what information is shared, so may request no information is given, or only some information. For example, you may be happy for us to confirm you are having treatment, but not give details of your treatment and care needs.
Most therapists will be happy to have a friend or family member to come along to a session to give or get more information, but will want to discuss this privately with their client first.
Sharing information without consent
Breaking confidentiality is a serious issue and healthcare professionals will only share information without consent if there is a risk of serious harm to or from the client or there is a risk of a serious crime. If someone tells us that they are going to kill themselves or someone else, we could decide to share this information with someone, or contact the police. Where possible, we will get consent to share information, even in these circumstances, but only if it is safe for the therapist to do so.
In certain circumstances, personal information may be shared if this is for the public good. For example, all NHS staff are required to report people at risk of radicalisation. Personal information can also be shared if this is required by law, so for example, a court could order us to release your notes.
Knowing how to support people with problems can be very stressful. Having some information about what may be going on, and how you can help can really help. The following links will take you to information that you may find useful.
NHS Choices home
NHS Choices Mental Health home
Royal College of Psychiatrists