Relatives of patients with severe psychotic illness: factors that influence appraisal of caregiving and psychological distress.
Harvey K., Burns T., Fahy T., Manley C., Tattan T.
BACKGROUND: Research shows considerable variability in the effect on relatives of patients' mental illness but the determinants of relatives' experience remain unclear. We investigated the influence of demographic, social and clinical characteristics on relatives' experience when conceptualised using a stress-appraisal-coping paradigm. METHODS: Our sample was drawn from relatives of patients recruited to the UK700 case management study (n = 154). Demographic, social and clinical data were collected from patients, and relatives completed the Experience of Caregiving Inventory and the General Health Questionnaire. We predicted that patients' symptomatology in particular would influence relatives' experience, and that relatives who appraised caregiving more negatively and less positively would experience greater psychological distress. RESULTS: Linear regression analyses revealed that relatives' appraisal was not predicted by patients' symptomatology. Instead, relatives appraised caregiving more negatively if the patient was unemployed or younger, and less positively if the patient had been ill for longer or had poorer social functioning. Little of the variance in appraisal was explained by these variables, however. Consistent with the stress-coping model, relatives' negative appraisal was a strong predictor of psychological distress and accounted for a substantial proportion of its variance. Positive appraisal did not predict psychological distress, however. None of the demographic, social or clinical characteristics tested had any significant effect on relatives' psychological distress once appraisal was adjusted for. There was an unexpected positive correlation between the two appraisal scales, with relatives who appraised caregiving more negatively also appraising it more positively. CONCLUSIONS: Our results support a stress-coping model of caregiving but further research is required to determine more influential predictors of relatives' appraisal. Our findings indicate that interventions aimed at patients' social functioning and relatives' negative appraisal of caregiving may assist in reducing relatives' psychological distress.