Public Release: 

Carers of terminally ill up to 7 times more likely to have mental health problems

University of Manchester

Carers for people with cancer are between 5 and 7 times more likely to have mental health problems than the general population, according to a landmark new study.

The Dimbleby Cancer Care funded study identifies a major public health concern, according to the lead author Gunn Grande, Professor of Palliative Care at The University of Manchester.

The study, 'Psychological morbidity* and general health among family caregivers during end of life cancer care: a retrospective census survey' reveals 83% of family carers of people with cancer have clinically significant distress - compared to just 15% of the general population. The study retrospectively measured carers' psychological health and general health during the patient's last three months of life.

The study, which was supported by NIHR CLAHRC GM and carried out by the Universities of Manchester, Newcastle and Groningen in the Netherlands, has been published in the journal, Palliative Medicine. The team received responses from 1,504 carers through a national four-month post bereavement postal survey in the autumn of 2015. The survey was sent via the Office for National Statistics to 5,271 relatives who registered a death in May 2015. Local carers groups helped shape the material.

The survey revealed:

  • Psychological morbidity at clinically significant levels was substantially higher among carers than the general population (83% versus 15%), with prevalence 5-7 times higher across all age groups.
  • Overall carers' general health scores were lower than population scores, median 75 (interquartile range 50-80) versus 80 but differences were more marked at younger ages.
  • Female carers had worse psychological morbidity and general health than male carers.

Gunn Grande, Professor of Palliative Care at The University of Manchester, led the study. She stated: "We were aware that carers' psychological health suffers when caring for the terminally ill, but we were surprised at the sheer scale of the problem. We found that the vast majority of carers suffered psychological morbidity at a level where further clinical investigation is recommended and where, for instance, their ability to concentrate, make decisions and deal with problems may be affected. If we can ensure that carers feel better supported, we are likely to reduce some of the more extreme stresses of caregiving, so that carers are more able to carry on their valuable work without being 'broken' by the experience".

The Dimbleby Cancer Care Research Fund has awarded over £2.7million in funding since 2004 to research projects looking at all aspects of cancer care. Chair of the charity, broadcaster, Jonathan Dimbleby said:

"This latest research reflects what unfortunately we see every day through our work; caring for someone with cancer can have a huge impact on your own health. The role these carers play is vital, but they need better support, which is why Dimbleby Cancer Care exists.

"Caring for a loved one going through cancer can be both distressing and challenging and we are there to support them, be it through our information centres, our psychological support, complementary therapies and benefits advice teams or our recently launched Cancer Care Map website, which for the first time enables us to reach across the UK. It is clear from this research that ongoing support for carers is very much needed and would prevent a breakdown in caregiving and may ultimately, in the long term, produce cost savings for the NHS.".

This is the second of three sets of findings to be published from the study. The first set, published last year showed that family carers of people with cancer on average provide almost 70 hours of care a week to look after their relatives in the last three months of life. The final results focusing on the economic value to society of their work will be published at a later date.

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Dimbleby Cancer Care was set up in 1966 in memory of broadcaster Richard Dimbleby and is based at Guy's Cancer Centre in Southwark, London. It provides practical and psychological support to people living with cancer and to their families and carers. The charity runs the UK wide online directory of support services http://www.cancercaremap.org which helps people locate care and support services in their local area wherever they are in the UK and has its own information and support centres at Guy's Cancer Centre and Queen Mary's Hospital, Sidcup.

*'Psychological morbidity is not a specific disease. It simply means that a person is not healthy psychologically, including mental health issues, distress and anxiety

For more press information please contact:

Sarah@BluebirdPR.co.uk or 07870210025

Mike Addelman
Media Relations Officer
Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health
University of Manchester
michael.addelman@manchester.ac.uk
0161 275 2111
07717 881567

Notes to editor

Jonathan Dimbleby and Professor Gunn are available for comment

Case study, Tony Bonser, is available for interviews

About Dimbleby Cancer Care

Dimbleby Cancer Care provides practical and psychological support for people living with cancer, their families and carers. The charity was set up in 1966 in memory of renowned broadcaster Richard Dimbleby and is based at Guy's Cancer Centre, London. Its mission is to help make better for people facing cancer in the UK. It does this in three ways: through its online directory of support serviceshttp://www.cancercaremap.org to help people across the UK find care and support services nearest to them; through its Information and Support centres at Guy's Cancer Centre and Queen Mary's Hospital, Sidcup, which offer a drop-in information service, specialist welfare benefits advice, psychological support, complementary therapies and the provision of Dimbleby pillows for cancer patients; and through the Dimbleby Cancer Care Research Fund which has awarded over £2.7million in funding since 2004 to research projects looking at all aspects of cancer care. Dimbleby Cancer Care receives no government funding and relies solely on public donations.http://www.dimblebycancercare.org.

About The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR): improving the health and wealth of the nation through research.

Established by the Department of Health and Social Care, the NIHR:

  • funds high quality research to improve health
  • trains and supports health researchers
  • provides world-class research facilities
  • works with the life sciences industry and charities to benefit all
  • involves patients and the public at every step

For further information, visit the NIHR website http://www.nihr.ac.uk

About NIHR CLAHRC GM

The National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care Greater Manchester (NIHR CLAHRC GM) is a partnership between providers and commissioners from the NHS, industry, the third sector and the University of Manchester. Hosted by Salford NHS Foundation Trust, It aims to improve the health of people in Greater Manchester and beyond through carrying out research and putting it into practice. Find out more at http://www.clahrc-gm.nihr.ac.uk or follow us on Twitter: @CLAHRC_GM

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The University of Manchester, a member of the prestigious Russell Group, is the UK's largest single-site university with more than 40,000 students - including more than 10,000 from overseas. It is consistently ranked among the world's elite for graduate employability.

The University is also one of the country's major research institutions, rated fifth in the UK in terms of 'research power' (REF 2014). World-class research is carried out across a diverse range of fields including cancer, advanced materials, global inequalities, energy and industrial biotechnology.

No fewer than 25 Nobel laureates have either worked or studied here.

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