Academic journal article Perspectives in Psychiatric Care

Male Caregivers of Mentally Ill Relatives

Academic journal article Perspectives in Psychiatric Care

Male Caregivers of Mentally Ill Relatives

Article excerpt

TOPIC. To describe the lived experiences of male caregivers of severely mentally ill relatives and their perceptions of this nontraditional role.

METHODS. A qualitative study of informal interviews with purposively selected male caregivers (N = 10), using an informal interview guide that addressed psychosocial, physical, financial, and crisis-management categories.

FINDINGS. The data yielded three themes of caregiving: expressions of burden, duration and depth of commitment, and role affirmation.

CONCLUSIONS. The results can help health professionals develop needed education and support services for men in this emerging role and contribute to family health in the community.

Key words: Caregiver, caregiver role strain, mental disorders, qualitative studies, role stress, risk for caregiver role strain

Five million adults in the United States suffer from chronic mental illness (National Institute of Mental Health [NIMH], 1994). Of this number, it has been estimated that between 40% and 60% either reside with or receive primary care from family members (Cook, Cohler, Pickett, & Beeler, 1997; NIMH). The psychosocial, physical and financial impact on the family of people suffering with severe mental illness is profound (Hanson & Rapp, 1992; Harris, 1993; Matthew, Mattocks, & Slatt, 1990; Norbeck, Chaftez, Skodol-Wilson, & Weiss, 1991; Rice, Kelman, & Miller, 1992). NIMH reports that more than $150 billion are spent annually on severe mental illness, and this amount does not include the cost of care provided by family in the home.

Studies on the family experience of caregiving have been primarily directed at women and parents (Bull, 1990; Francell, Conn, and Gray, 1988; Greenberg, Greenley, McKee, Brown, & Griffin-Francell, 1993; Howard, 1994; Maurin & Boyd, 1990). Miller and Cafasso (1992) note that there is a "tendency to describe the caregiver's role in terms of personal care activities highlighted by the societal image of caregiving as a largely female endeavor" (p. 498). Even though the availability of women as primary caregivers is declining as a result of educational and economic forces, there remains a traditional sex role stereotype of females as family caregivers (Kaye & Applegate, 1990).

As changes in the familial context of society continue, increasing proportions of men will become involved in home care of relatives. It is estimated that more than one third of unreported caregivers in American homes are male (Brown & Powell-Cope, 1993; Grosser & Vine, 1991; Kaye & Applegate, 1990). Several studies have addressed the experiences of male caregivers (Baker & Johnson, 1990; Cook et al., 1997; Harris, 1993; King, Collins, Givens, & Vredevoogd, 1991). Little attention has been given to the role, however, as it relates to caring for mentally ill family members (Harris; Kaye & Applegate).

Ascher-Svanum and Sobel (1989) studied caregivers of mentally ill relatives to explore the relationship between gender and perceived levels of burden. Ninety-seven caregivers (76 women, 21 men) were interviewed. Women were found to experience a greater sense of burden and frustration than men in caring for their mentally ill relatives. The authors concluded that women encountered a wide range of difficulties centered around family and child rearing. Other researchers have described the male caregiving role as managerial in contrast to the nurturing or supportive activities associated with women (Cook et al., 1997; Lefley, 1987; Maurin & Boyd, 1990).

Francell et al. (1988) conducted a similar study of families' perceptions of burden of care for mentally ill relatives. The sample consisted of 86 primary caregivers, of whom 80% were women. Caregivers exhibited feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness about their ability to care for and live with their ill relatives. They expressed pessimism and anger about the care and treatment received from mental health services. …

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