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Open Access Research article

Mental disorder and caregiver burden in spouses: the Nord-Trøndelag health study

Mariann Idstad*, Helga Ask and Kristian Tambs

Author Affiliations

Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Division of Mental Health, PO Box 4404 Nydalen, N-0403 Oslo, Norway

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:516  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-516

Published: 26 August 2010

Abstract

Background

Researchers generally agree that mental disorder represents a burden to the family. The present study concerns the subjective burden of living with a person with mental disorder, more specifically the association between mental disorder in the index person and subjective well-being and symptoms of anxiety and depression in the spouse.

Methods

Data were obtained from questionnaires administered to the adult population of Nord-Trøndelag County, Norway during the period 1995-1997. The present study is based on a subsample where 9,740 couples were identified. Subjective burden in spouses of persons with mental disorder was compared with subjective burden in spouses of persons without mental disorder, using analysis of variance (ANOVA). All analyses were stratified by sex.

Results

Adjusting for several covariates, spouses of persons with mental disorder scored significantly lower on subjective well-being and significantly higher on symptoms of anxiety and depression compared to spouses of index persons without mental disorder. Although highly significant, the effect sizes were moderate, corresponding to a difference in standard deviations ranging from .34 - .51.

Conclusions

Our study supports the notion that there is an association between mental disorder in one partner and subjective burden in the spouse, but not to the same extent that have been reported in earlier studies, as our results do not indicate that a large proportion of the spouses reach a symptom level of anxiety and depression that reflects clinical mental disorder.