Warning over mental wellbeing among carers of terminally-ill cancer patients

Poor mental wellbeing among the family carers of terminally-ill cancer patients represents a “substantial public health problem”, researchers have warned.

More than eight in 10 (83%) of those caring for a relative dying from cancer report clinically significant psychological distress, according to a study published in journal Palliative Medicine, compared to 15% of the general population.

The prevalence of mental health problems was between five and seven times higher across all age groups, the research found.

The findings are based on the survey responses of around 1,500 carers, four months after they registered the death of a relative from cancer in England in 2015.

The authors of the study, which was funded by charity Dimbleby Cancer Care, said: “Levels of psychological morbidity among family carers during end-of-life caregiving are far higher than indicated by previous research, indicating a substantial public health problem.”

Lead author Gunn Grande, professor of palliative care at the University of Manchester, said: “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.”

Greater support for carers could be cost-effective for the health service in the long term, the researchers suggest.

They wrote: “Carers are our biggest resource in supporting patients at end-of-life.

“If they are stretched beyond breaking point, there would be considerable economic, health, and social care cost implications.”

Charity Dimbleby Cancer Care was set up in 1966 in memory of broadcaster Richard Dimbleby and provides practical and psychological support for people living with cancer and their families and carers.

Chairman Jonathan Dimbleby said: “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.”

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