The Health and Mental Health of Caregivers in Northern Ireland – A Study based on the Northern Ireland Longitudinal Study (NILS).

The provision of informal care[1] within the family and among neighbours plays an increasingly important role for individuals, local communities and social services in today’s ageing societies. Informal care within the home is a potentially cost effective way of maintaining people’s independence and it is a mode of care that is often found to be preferred by clients (Genet et al. 2011). However, informal care poses a considerable strain on the carer, and experiences of stress, burden and fatigue are common. If experienced over prolonged periods of time, caregiver strain and burden can result in mental health problems, such as anxiety and episodes of depression (Falloon, Graham-Hole, and Woodroffe 1993; Coope et al. 1995; Livingston, Manela, and Katona 1996; Falloon, Graham-Hole, and Woodroffe 2009).

This project examines relationships between informal caregiving and mental health across rural and urban Northern Ireland. The self-reported health and mental health of informal care-givers is compared with that of non-caregivers and across different age groups and social strata. Mental health is measured not only by the NILS-members’ self-reported answers on Census forms, but also by objective medication prescription data (the dosage of anxiolytics and anti-depressants prescribed, dispensed and scanned by the BSO between April 2010 and March 2012) obtained from the BSO. Regarding the carer’s mental health, two outcome variables are of particular interest: 1.anxiety disorder, measured by the amount and dosage of anxiolytics dispensed in a given time, and 2. depression, measured by the amount and dosage of antidepressants in a given time.

The analyses will acknowledge differences in the life-circumstances of informal carers (their age, gender, education, employment status and occupational class, deprivation, and, where possible, duration and hours spent caregiving), their change over time and their possible effect on the carers (self-reported) general health and mental health. E.g. the stress and strain experienced by care-givers may differ between younger and older age-cohorts, it may differ by how much support the carer receives in their household and whether they are in part-or full-time employment and by how many hours they spend caring.

Furthermore, the analyses will carefully consider possible effects of contextual factors, such as proximity to social services and area deprivation on differences in the relationships between caregiving and mental health.

All these external factors are likely to influence relationships between informal caregiving and mental health.

[1]Informal care is defined here as unpaid care as asked in the Census 2011.


Publications and Outputs:

Doebler, S., Ryan, A., Shortall, S., Maguire, A., 2017. ‘Informal care-giving and mental ill-health – differential relationships by workload, gender, age and area-remoteness in a UK region’. Health Soc. Care Community.

Doebler, S. (2015) ‘The Health and Mental Health of Informal Caregivers in Rural and Urban Northern Ireland‘ – Presented at the Northern Ireland Assembly Knowledge Exchange Seminar Series, 4th February.


Research Team: Dr Stefanie Doebler, Dr Ian Shuttleworth, Dr Aideen Maguire, Dr Assumpta Ryan and Prof Sally Shortall
Database: NILS
Project Status: Complete
Organisation(s): Queen’s University Belfast