OBJECTIVES: Carers of people with eating disorders (ED) have high levels of distress, but little is known about the contributing factors. The aim of this study was to examine predictors of carers' distress and caregiving appraisals using a model of caregiving adapted from the previous literature.
DESIGN: A cross-sectional design was used.
METHODS: A sample of 115 individuals currently caring for someone with an ED participated in the study. Carers completed self-report assessments of psychological distress (GHQ-12; Goldberg & Williams, 1988), experience of caregiving (Szmukler et al., 1996), illness representations (IPQ-SCV; Barrowclough, Lobban, Hatton, & Quinn, 2001) and caregiving needs (CaNAM; Haigh & Treasure, 2003). Simple and multiple hierarchical regressions were conducted.
RESULTS: Approximately 36% (39/109) of carers had scores on the GHQ which indicated mental health difficulties, with 17% (19/109) experiencing high psychological distress. A negative experience of caregiving was associated with carers' distress. The dependency of the individual with the ED and stigma associated with the illness were most highly predictive of carers' distress. Shorter illness duration, higher levels of needs (lower levels of support) and perceptions of high illness consequences contributed to greater negative caregiving appraisals. The belief that the illness was attributable to the sufferers' personality was related to fewer positive appraisals.
CONCLUSIONS: Adjusting to the impact of a family member experiencing an ED is problematic, as suggested by the relationship between shorter illness duration and greater negative appraisals of caregiving. Interventions to help reduce dependency and alleviate stigma may help to decrease carers' distress.