UK (Parliament Politics Maganize) – The well-being of individuals is compromised when they assume unpaid caregiving responsibilities for friends and family, as indicated by research from St George’s, University of London, and UCL. This study is now featured in The Lancet Public Health. Taking on the role of a caregiver was associated with heightened psychological distress across all age groups in the study, encompassing individuals aged 16–49. Additionally, mental health function exhibited a decline for those aged 30–64 upon assuming caregiving responsibilities.
Calling for Better Support
The researchers argue that the observed shift in the mental health of caregivers throughout the U.K. should prompt nationwide reforms in the support systems to prevent a deterioration in their health and well-being, particularly for younger caregivers. This aligns with the release of a significant report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on young and young adult caregivers, underscoring the substantial population of young caregivers who often go unidentified for an average of three years before being connected to any form of support.
With the aging of the U.K. population and the escalation of the cost of living, the provision of unpaid care for family and friends has grown into a progressively vital component of care in many nations. According to the United Nations, unpaid caregivers fulfill 75%–90% of care requirements, and despite the tendency to overlook young adults in this role, they constitute a significant portion, numbering at least 376,000 caregivers across the U.K.
Prior studies have indicated that the overall health of unpaid caregivers tends to be inferior to that of non-caregivers. However, until now, there has been limited research exploring how individuals’ mental health evolves upon assuming a caregiving role, and whether such changes differ based on factors such as age, gender, and the extent of care they administer.
Caregiving Associated with Older Adults
Younger caregivers are frequently disregarded, as caregiving is often perceived as an activity more associated with older adults. We strongly encourage health leaders to give due consideration to this evidence and ensure that healthcare practitioners promptly recognize caregivers among their patients, including those who are younger adults, so that their health can be thoroughly assessed. This is vital in breaking the cycle of care needs,” emphasizes Dr. Rebecca Lacey, lead author and reader in social and life course epidemiology at St George’s Population Health Research Institute.
The study utilized information from over 17,000 individuals in the UK Household Longitudinal Study spanning the period from 2009 to 2020. The objective was to examine alterations in mental and physical health during the transition to becoming a caregiver for the first time, encompassing adults as young as 16 years old.
Data analysis involved 16,906 individuals responding to the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12), assessing psychological distress, and 17,909 individuals responding to the 12-item Short Form Survey (SF-12), gauging both physical and mental functioning.
The research team examined the mental and physical health of caregivers across an eight-year period: eight years prior to becoming a caregiver, during the caregiving period, and eight years after. They conducted comparisons with non-caregivers who were otherwise similar.
Four Distinct Life Stages
The study considered four distinct life stages: early adulthood (16–29 years), early mid-adulthood (30–49 years), later mid-adulthood (50–64 years), and later life (65+ years). While there were more women than men who took on caregiving roles in every age group, the impact of becoming a caregiver on health did not exhibit significant differences between men and women.
In contrast to non-caregivers, individuals assuming caregiving responsibilities at the ages of 16–29, 30–49, and 50–64 experienced the most substantial surge in psychological distress, reflecting an increase of 0.37, 0.39, and 0.39 points in the GHQ score, respectively. Moreover, caregivers in the 30–49 and 50–64 age brackets demonstrated the most significant decline in mental health function, registering a reduction of 0.54 and 0.46 points in the SF-12 score, respectively.
Despite the relatively modest changes, researchers assert that they undeniably underscore the necessity for proactive measures to safeguard the mental well-being of individuals upon taking on caregiving roles.
Additionally, the study revealed that individuals engaged in high-intensity caregiving (20 or more hours per week) encountered heightened psychological stress and a decline in mental health. For caregivers aged 30 and above, the adverse impact on mental health endured for several years.