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Previous research on experiences of carers of patients treated under the MHA showed that most carers feel isolated and unsupported, and experienced frustration with services. They need help to overcome feelings of frustration and guilt, increase feelings of competence, and restore relationships with their loved ones and services.

The recent MHA review recognised the need to support carers throughout this challenging time. However, at present, there are no routinely available services doing this.

Peer support among patients has proved to be popular and effective in mental health services with limited costs. In Germany, a programme where carers are trained to support other carers reduced caregiving stress and improved carers’ psychological and physical quality of life (measured before and after the programme was provided).

Our proposed research will try a new approach to support family and friends (commonly referred to as carers) of patients treated under the Mental Health Act (MHA). This approach will learn from the German experience.

The project is being carried out in urban (East London) and rural (Warwickshire, Devon) sites.

First, we organised workshops and one-to-one interviews with carers, service users and clinicians to generate ideas on how one-to-one carer peer support can be delivered in England. We then developed the training programme using a ‘train the trainer’ model and will test it in two stages. Stage one training will be delivered by one of the developers of the programme in Germany (who is fluent in English) and a carer representative to eight carer peer supporters (CPS), who will then support three carers each (12 overall). Stage two training will be delivered by the eight previously trained CPS to 12 CPS who will then support three carers each (36 carers overall). Experiences, costs, engagement of carers and CPS, quality of life of carers and any adverse events will be assessed at the beginning of the process and regular time intervals throughout the research period.

Ten carers and service users are involved in one national lived experience advisory panel (LEAP). They help design the carer peer support programme with the researchers and offer their insights and perspectives to the whole project. Members of the LEAP come from various areas of the country, and have a diverse range of experience and insight that they offer to this project.

In the final part of the study, we will have workshops with carers, service users, health and social care professionals, charity officers, commissioners and other policy makers to identify any additional important information and future research agenda for putting carer peer support into practice.

This will be summarised in academic publications, in a technical guide for policy makers and in a guide for carers interested in offering or receiving peer support.