Stress takes toll on family caregivers

Local | Sum Lok-kei 3 Oct 2017

Nearly four out of five caregivers of schizophrenia patients feel depressed, while half live a more reclusive life, a survey has found.

It was estimated some 226,000 people had mental illnesses in Hong Kong in 2015, and about one-fifth were diagnosed with severe conditions including schizophrenia. Schizophrenia patients suffer from symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions.

A Hong Kong Shue Yan University survey commissioned by Caritas Wellness Link, Hong Kong Association of Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Hong Kong FamilyLink Mental Health Advocacy Association interviewed 454 caregivers between August and last month. The study found 78 percent of caregivers said they felt depressed and 45 percent said they suffered from insomnia.

Close to 50 percent had reduced contact with the outside world, rarely seeing family and friends. Some 18 percent also had to quit their jobs or work part-time to care for a schizophrenic family member, and about 5 percent said their relationships or marriages ended.

The most common sources of stress were patients' refusal to attend doctor appointments and take anti-psychotic medicine. On a scale of one to five, with five being "very stressful," caregivers rated the two issues over four.

Hong Kong Association of Psychosocial Rehabilitation president Michael Wong Ming-cheuk said drug compliance among schizophrenia patients is about 50 percent, meaning half are not in the habit of taking their medication on time.

The psychiatrist said caregivers often have to remind patients to take their pills, which led to conflicts. "Some people may feel there is no need to take the pills after the symptoms are gone," Wong said.

Patients may also stop their medication after experiencing uncomfortable side effects, including tremors, dry mouth and drowsiness.

To increase drug compliance, he suggested the government give more resources to the Hospital Authority so doctors can prescribe more schizophrenic patients with injected anti- psychotic drugs.

These injections, which are commonly used in Australia and Germany, are effective for four to 12 weeks and have fewer side effects.

Although it costs ten times more than oral pills, he said, a local study estimated that increased use of injected medication for schizophrenia could save HK$200 million a year by preventing readmissions.

Caritas senior social work supervisor Stephen Wong Man-shun said the survey findings were "alarming," as he called on the government to set up peer groups for caregivers in the community.

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