Impact of Mental Illness on Family Caregivers. A Qualitative Study in Kedah, Malaysia
Mental illness is defined as a condition in which a person has a change in thinking, mood or behaviour as a result of stress (Stewart, 2002). Mental illness is a general term for mental disorders caused by brain dysfunction, which results in mild to severe disturbance in the individual’s thinking, perception and behaviour (Staff, 2012). According to the Mental Health Act, 2001 (Act 615), mental illness is caused by interference or obstacles to the development of the mind, a psychiatric disorder or any other disorder that causes an inability of the mind to function as normal (Ministry of Health ...view middle of the document...
This is true in Malaysia, under the Mental Health Act 2001, the government has encouraged the family members to look after their mentally ill member/s at home when they are discharged from the hospital (Ministry of Health Malaysia, 2001). Meanwhile, Mohamad et al. (2012) and Abdullah, Aun, Muhammad and Saim (2013) also noted that after the 1960s, the government has taken the approach to place the mentally ill person in the hospital to the community and this has resulted in an increase in the number of caregivers who take on the role of caring their mentally ill member/s. However, most of the family caregivers found to be less willing to take care of their mentally ill member/s due to various problems and constraints (Abdullah et al., 2013).
A few studies were conducted in Malaysia about family caregivers for people with severe mental illness (Mohamad, 2011). For instance, a study conducted by Abdullah et al. (2013) showed that it is not easy for any family members to treat and care for the mentally ill member/s. Similarly, a study by Goffman (1963) also found that it is not easy for family members to accept the presence of the mentally ill member/s in the family. In addition, other studies have also shown that family caregivers will be facing a variety of negative impacts and difficulties which will affect their well-being (Fisher, Benson, & Tessler, 1990; Frank, 1990; Gubman & Tessler, 1987, Hatfield, 1978: Marsh, 1992; Noh & Avison, 1988; Thompson & Doll, 1982).
Family caregivers play a major role in providing care giving assistance to their mentally ill member/s. The effect of stressors on family members caring for a mentally ill person in the family has been referred to as caregiver burden. According to Swaroop (2013), caregiver burden in mental illness can either be objective or subjective. Objective burdens are defined as readily verifiable behavioural phenomena such as negative patient symptoms, disruption of the caregiver’s daily routine social activities and leisure, social isolation, financial and employment difficulties. Meanwhile, subjective burdens comprise of emotional strain on family caregivers such as fear, sadness, anger, guilt, loss, stigma and rejection (Swaroop, 2013). Lefley (1996) explains that both the objective and subjective burden will lead to psychosocial, physical and financial burdens on mentally ill family caregivers.
The well-being of the mentally ill person is dependent on the well-being of the caregivers. Yet, family caregivers as a whole are expected to be the “managers” of the mentally ill person and simultaneously continue with their normal life chores and responsibilities. This is overwhelming and stressful and may affect family functioning, the physical and psycho-social well-being of the caregivers, not forgetting the financial strain that confronts them.
This research seeks to explore the impact of mental illness on family caregivers in caring for their mentally ill member/s.