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Keywords:

  • bipolar disorder;
  • burden impact;
  • carers

Abstract:  Caregivers of people with bipolar disorder may experience a different quality of burden than is seen with other illnesses. A better understanding of their concerns is necessary to improve the training of professionals working with this population. Conceptualizing caregiver burden in a conventional medical framework may not focus enough on issues important to caregivers, or on cultural and social issues. Perceptions of caregivers about bipolar disorder have important effects on levels of burden experienced. It is important to distinguish between caregivers’ experience of this subjective burden and objective burden as externally appraised. Caregivers’ previous experiences of health services may influence their beliefs about the illness. Caregiver burden is associated with depression, which affects patient recovery by adding stress to the living environment. The objective burden on caregivers of patients with bipolar disorder is significantly higher than for those with unipolar depression. Caregivers of bipolar patients have high levels of expressed emotion, including critical, hostile, or over-involved attitudes. Several measures have been developed to assess the care burden of patients with depressive disorders, but may be inappropriate for patients with bipolar disorder because of its cyclical nature and the stresses arising from manic and hypomanic episodes. Inter-episode symptoms pose another potential of burden in patients with bipolar disorder. Subsyndromal depressive symptoms are common in this phase of the illness, resulting in severe and widespread impairment of function. Despite the importance of assessing caregiver burden in bipolar disorder, relevant literature is scarce. The specific effects of mania and inter-episode symptoms have not been adequately addressed, and there is a lack of existing measures to assess burden adequately, causing uncertainty regarding how best to structure family interventions to optimally alleviate burden. The relatively few studies into caregiver burden in bipolar disorder may largely reflect experiences in the US Veterans Affairs health service, but the findings may be limited in their generalizability. Nevertheless, available data suggest that caregiver burden is high and largely neglected in bipolar disorder. Clinically effective, well-targeted and practically viable interventions are needed. However, services cannot be enhanced on a rational basis without an improved understanding and capacity to measure and target caregiver burden the impact of any change in services be evaluated.