Carers identified?

Appendix E: Ulysses agreements

Page last updated: 2010

Courtesy Calgary Mental Health Services, Canada

The Ulysses Agreement is a non-legal document that serves as a proactive plan. It is named after the Greek mythological hero, Ulysses, who asked his crew to tie him to the mast of the ship so he could resist the call of the Sirens. It might also be referred to as a Care, Treatment and Personal Management Plan. It allows for a parent with a mental illness to prepare some information for sharing and to make some decisions in advance of going through a period of incapacitation due to their mental illness. The plan can outline provisions for themselves, their family and the care of their children.

There are several considerations in developing this kind of plan:

  • It is not a legal document. As an informal plan, it depends on good faith and cannot be enforced through the courts. For example, if the parent states in the agreement that he or she does not wish to change it without a defined process, it is legally open to be changed by the parent at any time. Laws about child protection, custody and confidentiality supersede the agreement. Service providers should consult with their supervisors regarding their own ability to enter into advance plans.
  • It typically takes a long time to develop a plan that will actually work in a crisis. The effectiveness of the plan corresponds to the strength of the family's support network. If this network is not strong enough, early efforts to develop a plan may still be helpful but the plan itself may not work out as hoped. For example, a preferred caregiver may not be endorsed by child welfare authorities (if they are involved with the family). However, it is likely that the relationship between the person named by the parent and possibly the child will be respectfully considered by those who work with the family. Top of page
  • The parent must be well enough to make a good, safe plan. Some parents, especially people living in smaller communities, may be too isolated to be able to enlist others to give sufficient support. The nature of some mental illnesses (paranoia, for example) may interfere with the parent's ability to trust others even in developing a plan. Also, parents may not be aware of past histories of friends and acquaintances that would preclude them from being good caregivers for their children.
  • Children can have an active role in the plan, as developmentally appropriate. For example, a child may be the first person to notice symptoms in their parent, and should have the means to seek help for themselves and their parent. An adolescent may have strong views about issues such as alternative care, which should be respected as far as possible.