How Does Family Burden Affect Psychological Well-Being of Caregivers?

Family burden is a term that encompasses all of the challenges that may exist for an individual who lives with someone who has experienced a significant illness, particularly a long-term illness. Even if the illness does not require that the family member provide care for their loved one, the emotional toll that the illness can have on the family is part of the overall burden. Additionally, any caregiving responsibilities and financial, relational, and personal effects are considered part of family burden. Because family caregiving is becoming increasingly popular and more individuals are living for longer periods with physical and mental illnesses, it is imperative to understand how family burden affects the caregivers and even significant others who do not have to provide care. Therefore, Edel Ennis of the School of Psychology at the University of Ulster in the UK recently conducted a study that explored the relationship between family health, family burden, and participant psychological well-being.

Ennis considered the type of illness, noting that some illnesses such as bipolar, dementia, and Alzheimer’s are particularly emotionally taxing on family members, the relationship between the participant and ill family member, marital status, income, and gender. After examining over 3,000 participants, Ennis found a direct and distinct relationship between family burden and individual mental health. Specifically, the higher the perceived family burden was; the worse the psychological well-being of the participant. For women, high family burden was related to increased risk for depression. For men and women, low income, and singlehood were risk factors for increased stress and poor mood. Ennis believes that limited finances and lack of other people in the home to provide support could explain this finding.

One result that was unexpected was that the participant’s relationship to the ill family member did not affect overall psychological well-being. Previous research has suggested that caring for a spouse is often more emotionally depleting than caring for a parent or child. However, in this study, that was not the case. But, Ennis did find that younger caregivers were more vulnerable to negative psychological outcomes. For all the participants, higher family burden was reported for family member mental health problems versus physical health problems. In conclusion, this study shows that individuals living with an ill family member, even those who do not directly provide care, are at risk for psychological problems and should be targeted for interventions. Ennis added, “This is essential given the increasing numbers of individuals requiring additional support, and the increasing reliance on the family to provide this support.”

Ennis E., Bunting, B.P. (2013). Family burden, family health and personal mental health. BMC Public Health 13: 255. Published online 2013 March 21. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-13-255

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • helen

    April 12th, 2013 at 11:53 PM

    u just cant escape it can u?when some1 around u n especially a family member has any problem it does bother u n trouble u.i experienced this when i was living with my sis after she moved out from her husband s.her problems troubled me no doubt and on a psychological level it was bad.things didnt get better until v both spoke to a glad i went too.

  • dahlia

    April 13th, 2013 at 4:05 AM

    Having the responsibility of taking care of a sick family member is a very tough job. If you have never experienced this, then you should thank the stars because I have never done anything quite that difficult.
    You want this person to have a good remainder of life, but then there are times when you just want to crawl away and hide because the responsibility feels too much to handle.

  • Carolee

    April 13th, 2013 at 1:05 PM

    But wouldn’t you say that a lot of the “burden” comes from the way that the caregiver views the job?
    I mean, if you see this as a burden then that is what it will feel like to you.
    But what about seeing it as an opportunity to spend more one on one time with someone that you love? Wouldn’t that make it feel a little better?
    I am not saying that this would necessarily make the job any easier, but we all know that when you think a little more positively about something then the chances that you will view it in a more promising light are certainy there.

  • staci

    April 15th, 2013 at 3:48 AM

    Hey, I visited my grandma in her nursing home yesterday.
    After going there I have decided that I would much rather have her at my house 24/7 and try to take care of her myself than to have her stay there one more minute.
    If it is a burden then so be it but I don’t think that I want her there one more day.

  • nathan k

    April 15th, 2013 at 12:39 PM

    caregivers should be able to bring cheer to the ill family member if anything. if they are low and down themselves then that will have a bad effect on the ill person to. so it is double the loss due to the caregiver not taking care of himself/herself. i know how it becomes tough to think of anything other than the ill family member but you cannot ignore a certain few things because not only do they help gain positivity but also because not doing them may encourage negativity.

  • Art

    April 16th, 2013 at 3:55 AM

    It is so difficult to be a caregiver for someone and then still be expected to maintain the same role in the home with your family. I cannot imagine the amount of stress that this will cause someone to feel, and the amount of anxiety that will naturally then go along with that. You have to want to do the best with the job that you have been tasked to do while at the same time not letting anything slip at home either. It is tough for us all to balance work and home, and I would suspect even more so when you are in this position of having to take care of someone who may have once taken care of you. There is this whole role reverasl that goes on, and that is difficult for many people to ever come to terms with and accept.

  • Hope

    December 3rd, 2013 at 4:54 AM

    Sometimes,i think why there is a division.Why some people do not hav any and some do hav enerything.Everybody in my home is sick. I am the yougest one and trying to take care of everybody.I am scared.What will happen if i fail?

  • caroline b.

    February 23rd, 2015 at 7:42 AM

    I am the in well one and I feel a huge burden on the one person I love so much in this life my sister I feel I’m stopping her enjoying her life and she don’t deserve this stuck in the middle there should be a way out just short of suicide her family loyalties is outstanding and cannot fault in any shape or form but its a horrible feeling being a burden when on days I can’t even take the lid off a milk bottle my sister deserves so much more I don’t feel that my love for her is enough to pay her back .

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