Family Caregivers are at a Heightened Risk for Mental Disorders - Folkhälsan

18 May 2022

Family Caregivers are at a Heightened Risk for Mental Disorders

Sickness absences and disability pensions due to mental disorders are more prevalent among family caregivers, suggests a new study from the Folkhälsan Research Center. The strains of family caregiving seem to implicate a higher risk for mental disorders among family caregivers, which in turn have adverse effects on work and life.

Those who take care of another person who cannot manage everyday life independently due to disability or illness are called family caregivers. These caregivers are responsible for the greatest part of the long-term care of the care recipients and their everyday needs. Many caregivers are of working age and simultaneously participating in working life.

The greatest differences were observed in depression, anxiety, and stress-related disorders.

Due to demographic development, an ageing population and increasing life expectancy, the need for family caregiving is growing. As such, it is expected that an increasing proportion of working adults will take on caregiving duties in the near future. This, naturally, underlines the importance of taking care of those who, in turn, take care of their loved ones.

– Solutions related to combining caregiving and working life will become critical given that the number of caregivers needed increases and simultaneously, societies strive for longer work careers, states docent Tuija Mikkola, the principal investigator of the study.

To explore this field, a study at Folkhälsan Research Center set out to quantify sickness absences and disability pensions among high-intensity family caregivers and comparing these to a control group. The study included all individuals in Finland, who had received caregiver’s allowance and were simultaneously available to the labor market in 2012, counting up to 16 892 persons. These were compared to a control group of 35 371 persons. The comparison was made on the basis of the number of sickness absence days and disability pension days (SADP), obtained from national registers for 2012-2017. The related diagnoses causing SADP were accounted as well.

In the analysis, 40.9% of the caregivers and 39.5% of the controls had at least one sickness absence. 6.1% of the caregivers and 4.7% of the controls received disability pension. Comparing the mean annual number of SADP days, the caregivers were absent on 23.2 days on average and the controls 18.5 days on average. An average of 7.2 SADP days among caregivers and 4.0 SADP days among the control group respectively SADP days were caused by mental disorders.

– The most interesting finding was that the number of SADP days caused by mental disorders was significantly higher among the caregivers than the controls, but we observed no notable differences due to cancer, neurological, cardiovascular, respiratory, or musculoskeletal diseases. The greatest differences were observed in depression, anxiety, and stress-related disorders, summarizes Mikkola.

These results suggest that family caregiving exposes the caregiver to an increased risk of mental disorders, possibly due to the burden of balancing work-life and caregiving. The researchers underline the importance of awareness of these risks among employers as well as within the health and social care systems. Furthermore, flexible working arrangements and adequate support for caregiving could reduce the burden of combining work-life and caregiving. 

Original publication:
Mikkola TM, Mänty M, Kautiainen H, et al. J Epidemiol Community Health 2022; 76:580–585.

Simon Granroth, Science Communicator