AG Awad and LN Voruganti,
Schizophrenia is a disabling, chronic psychiatric disorder that poses numerous challenges in its management and consequences. It extols a significant cost to the patient in terms of personal suffering, on the caregiver as a result of the shift of burden of care from hospital to families, and on society at large in terms of significant direct and indirect costs that include frequent hospitalizations and the need for long-term psychosocial and economic support, as well as life-time lost productivity. 'Burden of care' is a complex construct that challenges simple definition, and is frequently criticized for being broad and generally negative. Frequently, burden of care is more defined by its impacts and consequences on caregivers. In addition to the emotional, psychological, physical and economic impact, the concept of 'burden of care' involves subtle but distressing notions such as shame, embarrassment, feelings of guilt and self-blame. The early conceptualization of 'burden of care' into two distinct components (objective and subjective) has guided research efforts until the present time. Objective burden of care is meant to indicate its effects on the household such as taking care of daily tasks, whereas subjective burden indicates the extent to which the caregivers perceive the burden of care. Research contributions in later years (1980s to the present) have added more depth to understanding of the construct of burden of care by exploring important determinants and factors that likely contribute or mediate the caregiver's perception of burden of care. Several studies examined the role of gender, and reported that relatives of male patients with schizophrenia frequently experience more social dysfunction and disabilities than those of female patients. Similarly, a number of other studies documented the contribution of ethnicity and cultural issues to subjective burden of care. Although there is no complete agreement on whether a specific cluster of psychotic symptoms has the most impact on a caregiver's burden of care, there is agreement that the severity of symptoms increases it. An extensive literature concerning family interventions in schizophrenia has demonstrated the positive impact of various family interventions in improving family environment, reducing relapse and easing the burden of care. Although the evidence of such positive impact of family interventions in schizophrenia is well documented, such interventions are neither widely used nor appropriately integrated in care plans, and are frequently underfunded. Although the cost of caregiving is considered to be significant, there are no reliable estimates of the costs associated with such care. The majority of available literature categorized the cost of burden of care among the indirect costs of schizophrenia in general. In recent years, attempts to compare the costs of caregiving in several countries have been reported in the evolving literature on this topic. 'Burden of care' as a complex construct certainly requires the development of appropriate methodology for its costing. In achieving a balance between the patients' and caregivers' perspectives, caregivers have to be included in the care plan and adequate information and support extended to the family and caregivers. Access to better treatment for patients, including medications, psychosocial interventions and rehabilitation services, are important basic elements in easing the burden on caregivers. Other measures such as availability of crisis management, provision of legally mandated community treatment to avert hospitalization, and well informed and balanced advocacy are also important. Although research efforts have been expanded in the last 3 decades, an urgent need exists for enhancing such efforts, particularly in the development and evaluation of effective family interventions strategies. There is also a need for continued improvement in the delivery of psychiatric services to the severely psychiatrically ill and their families. As there is a lack of reliable cost information about the family burden of care specific to schizophrenia, there is an urgent need to develop reliable approaches that can generate data that can inform in policy making and organization of services.