The survey and interviews with carers resulted in the following key messages about the experience of being a forensic carer:
- The term ‘carer’ did not sit easily with this group; many rejected the label and preferred to call themselves ‘supporter’, ‘visitor’ or simply referred to the nature of their relationship with the person such as ‘mother’, ‘brother’, ‘sister’ etc., or said they were not thought of as carers by health professionals when the person entered forensic mental health services.
- However, a distinct role and sets of circumstances emerged that suggests it is useful to collectively refer to people in this situation as ‘forensic carers’.
- The forensic caring role was difficult to define, but at its core involved practical and emotional support provided to relatives or friends across different secure settings. Forensic carers carried a significant emotional burden.
- There were important differences between the experiences of carers who were relatives and those who were friends of the person. Caring as a friend rarely brought the same emotional turmoil that close relatives described, nor was it felt by friends as important for them to be kept informed about care and treatment issues.
- Many carers reported not being listened to when raising concerns about their relative’s deteriorating mental health prior to admission to forensic services.
- Carers commented on tangible improvements within forensic services in recent years. Some, however, commented there was still some way to go before the individual needs of their relative were met.
- Feeling stigmatised was highlighted as a challenge for carers, some losing friends and becoming isolated in their own communities.
- The impact of being a forensic carer was profound, impacting on all aspects of people’s lives including their physical and mental health. For some, being able to share the responsibility for care helps mitigate the stress felt.
- Forensic carers had extensive experience of the named person role. 15 out of 19 people interviewed and 63% of survey respondents were, or had been, a named person for their relative or friend.