Caring for a family member with advanced cancer can take a heavy mental health toll, but many caregivers may fail to get any psychiatric help, a new study suggests.
Researchers found that among 200 caregivers of patients with advanced cancer, 13 percent met the criteria for a significant psychiatric disorder –including panic disorder, major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and generalized anxiety. But less than half of them had received any professional help.
Past studies have found that caring for a seriously ill family member exacts a significant toll, with caregivers often having to quit their jobs and families losing their incomes and savings. The emotional burden may be even greater; some research has suggested that the strain of caring for a seriously ill loved one can shorten the caregiver’s life.
According to the authors of the new study, their findings point to an unmet need in cancer care: the mental well-being of patients’ caregivers.
The doctors and nurses who care for cancer patients are in an “ideal position” to help family caregivers get the psychiatric care they need, said lead study author Dr. Lauren C. Vanderwerker of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
Through some screening questions, she told Reuters Health, they could identify those family members who may need to be referred for mental health care.
The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, included 200 adults who were caring for a family member with advanced cancer, usually their spouse or parent. Overall, one quarter had sought help for emotional strain. But of those who met formal criteria for a major psychiatric disorder, only 46 percent had received psychotherapy, medication or help from a support group or clergy.
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Oct 2005
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Grohol, J. (2005). Family caregivers lack mental health help. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 20, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2005/10/21/family-caregivers-lack-mental-health-help/