A study at the Folkhälsan Research Center found that Finnish family caregivers use more antidepressants than age peers. A family caregiver is a person that takes care of a relative who, due to illness, disability or some other medical reason, is unable to manage life independently. In Finland, there are about 350,000 who serve as family caregivers regularly, and about 60,000 of them are tied to a demanding care situation.
A larger proportion of caregivers than the control group (26 percent vs. 21 percent) used antidepressant medication for at least one period during the six-year follow-up study. In the oldest age groups, the difference between the caregivers and the comparison group was smaller. The explanation for this is that those who opt to become caregivers tend to have a better basic health on average than others of the same age. This may contribute to an underestimation of the impact that family caregiving has on the caregiver’s health in studies.
– Depression is very frequent among Finns, but even more frequent among family caregivers. In the worst case, it can impair the caregivers' opportunity to take good care of their relatives, as many caregivers may lack practical help and psychological support in everyday life, says research group leader and senior researcher Tuija Mikkola.
According to previous studies, family caregiving is strenuous and stressful, and the higher level of use of antidepressant medication reflects the high demands that family caregiving puts on the individual. Other factors related to family caregiving are related to known mental stressors, such as financial problems, an impairment of social life, and conflict between the family caregiving and the other areas of life.
Data on medication use were obtained from KELA's registers and other data from national registers. The study included over 42,000 caregivers and over 83,000 reference persons. Two thirds of the caregivers were older than 60 years.
Tuija M. Mikkola, Hannu Kautiainen, Minna Mänty, Mikaela B. von Bonsdorff, Hannu Koponen, Teppo Kröger, Johan G. Eriksson. Use of antidepressants among Finnish family caregivers: a nationwide register-based study. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-021-02049-1
Text: Simon Granroth, Science Communicator