Open Access Research article

Physical and mental health among caregivers: findings from a cross-sectional study of Open University students in Thailand

Vasoontara Yiengprugsawan1*, David Harley1, Sam-ang Seubsman2 and Adrian C Sleigh1

Author Affiliations

1 National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, The Australian National University, Building 62, Mills Rd, Acton 2601, Canberra, ACT, Australia

2 School of Human Ecology, Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, Nonthaburi, Thailand

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Public Health 2012, 12:1111  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-1111

Published: 26 December 2012



Caregivers constitute an important informal workforce, often undervalued, facing challenges to maintain their caring role, health and wellbeing. Little is known about caregivers in middle-income countries like Thailand. This study investigates the physical and mental health of Thai adult caregivers.


This report derives from distance-learning students working and residing throughout Thailand and recruited for a health-risk transition study in 2005 (N=87,134) from Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University. The cohort follow-up questionnaire in 2009 (N = 60,569) includes questions on caregiver status which were not available in 2005; accordingly, this study is confined to analysis of the 2009 data. We report cross-sectional associations between caregiver status and health.


Among the study participants in 2009, 27.5% reported being part-time caregivers and 6.6% reported being full-time caregivers. Compared to male non-caregivers, being a part-time or full-time male caregiver was associated with lower back pain (covariate-Adjusted Odds Ratios, AOR 1.36 and 1.67), with poor psychological health (AOR 1.16 and 1.68), but not with poor self-assessed health. Compared to female non-caregivers, being a part- or full-time female caregiver was associated with lower back pain (AOR 1.47 and 1.84), psychological distress (AOR 1.32 and 1.52), and poor self-assessed health (AOR 1.21 and 1.34).


Adult caregivers in Thailand experienced a consistent adverse physical and mental health burden. A dose–response effect was evident, with odds ratios higher for full-time caregivers than for part-time, and non-caregivers. Our findings should raise awareness of caregivers, their unmet needs, and support required in Thailand and other similar middle-income countries.

Carer; Caregiver; Self-assessed health; Psychological distress; Lower back pain; Thai cohort study