OBJECTIVE: Within the last few years, a small number of German cost analyses of patients treated in community mental health care settings was presented. None of these studies, however, examined direct health care costs of the patients' close reference persons focusing on costs associated with providing informal care. Therefore, our study aimed to analyse health-related direct costs of severely ill patients suffering from affective or schizophrenic disorders, and of their informal carers during community mental health care; further, we examined if these costs differed between the diagnostic groups.
METHODS: 69 patients currently treated by community mental health services of the Dresden region and their closest reference person providing informal care were assessed twice within an interval of 3 months by use of the CSSRI- D. Thus, direct health care costs of patients and their informal carers covering a 6-months-period could be calculated.
RESULTS: 25.35% and 38.24%, respectively, of the closest reference persons' direct health care costs were caused by the situation of acting as informal carer. This was 9.12% and 22.74%, respectively, of the patients' direct health care costs assessed at the same time-points. Patients' costs did not differ between the diagnostic categories, but were influenced by the current severity of psychopathological symptoms. Reference persons' costs were influenced by the severity of the patient's psychopathological symptoms, but also by the social control behaviour of the reference persons themselves as well as by their sense of coherence.
CONCLUSIONS: While a replication of our findings is urgently needed, they point at the economic significance of direct health-related costs caused by acting as informal carers. Further, therapeutic approaches adequate for minimizing these costs could be suggested, like emphasizing protective factors of mental well-being in psycho-educational programmes for relatives.