Imagine if one working week every month your work performance was limited or compromised. That’s the situation faced by many schizophrenia caregivers who also hold down paid jobs, according to the findings of a large-scale caregiver survey presented by Dr Debra Lerner of the Tufts Medical Center, Boston, at the 2016 APA congress.
Dr Lerner said that over 18% of adults in the US act as unpaid caregivers, and she cited the findings from On Pins and Needles study which showed that three quarters of caregivers looking after someone with mental health issues find the task emotionally stressful.
Many caregivers to people with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder work, and Dr Lerner therefore said it was important to try to understand the impact that their caregiving had on work function and productivity. To this end, Dr Lerner got involved in conducting a survey of caregivers who also worked, asking about their paid work commitments and employment.
She described the anonymous on-line survey, which included a number of validated tools such as the work limitations questionnaire (WLQ), designed to assess time lost from work (absenteeism), presenteeism and impact of caregiving on work productivity.
Results from over 1000 caregiver questionnaires were available for analysis, and showed that the average age of caregivers was 55 years, with the average age of the care-recipient 40 years. Most caregivers were women and most were the parent of the person with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder.
Over 60% of caregiver respondents were in current work and of those, 69% reported being in full time work. Dr Lerner said that these statistics showing high rates of full time work among carers, emphasized the need to make things easier for caregivers, particularly as the survey showed that most worked outside of the home and many had lengthy commutes to their place of work.
Over a quarter of caregivers in work said they often had to take time off work but more than half said it was difficult to take time away from work for personal matters. Missing an average of 0.6 days per week from work and associated with work productivity losses of around 8%, Dr Lerner said that caregivers had work losses that are equivalent to those experienced by patients with MDD.
The survey highlights that being a caregiver to a person with schizophrenia spills over into work – with a negative impact on productivity. More research is needed to understand and quantify the burdens on those who care for people with serious mental illness.