Families kept in dark: group Print

By Caroline Milburn in The Melbourne Age 29 August 2002

Staff at psychiatric hospitals often refused to tell families about the treatment of mentally ill relatives, according to the National Network of Adult and Adolescent Children Who Have A Mentally Ill Parent.

The group has urged the State Government to change Victoria's laws and establish a "charter of rights" for children and immediate relatives to ensure they get basic information about their relatives' care.

Group convenor Paul Mckillop said many doctors and mental health agencies were inconsistent in their interpretation of the confidentiality and disclosure of information laws.

Under the Mental Health Act, information about a patient can be released only to a guardian, family member or primary carer if that person is the primary carer and the information is relevant to the care of the mentally ill person.

Mr Paul Mckillop said this meant that many adolescent and adult children were denied basic information about a mentally ill parent. He said concerned children and carers were also often denied information about the patient's diagnosis and the name of the treating doctor on the grounds of confidentiality.

In a recent example, an adult daughter was not told when her mother was to be released from hospital because the daughter lived next door and not with her mother.

Mr Mckillop said this was typical of the complaints received by the network.

"All children of a mentally ill parent are supporters of their parents and it's critical that they get basic information," Mr Mckillop said, "When kids are not told the truth their feelings of isolation and anger increase.'

The 1993 national inquiry into mental illness by Human Rights Commissioner Brian Burdekin found that communication between medical professionals and family members was often poor.

Carers told the inquiry that when they managed to get an acutely ill relative admitted to hospital they were frequently excluded from any consultation after the patient was admitted.

Charter or rights for carers.

Carers and children of mentally ill parents should be entitled to:

  • Information about patients discharge from hospital.
  • Name of treating doctor
  • Patient's diagnosis and treatment plan
  • Accommodation arrangements after hospital.
  • Advise medical staff about concerns.
Read the full Charter of Rights document.