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4327.0 - National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Users' Guide, 2007  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 11/02/2009   
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SOCIAL NETWORKS AND CAREGIVING


OVERVIEW

Mental disorders impact on people to varying degrees, depending on the severity of the disorder and the support available. A mental disorder may affect a person's ability to manage their day-to-day household responsibilities, participate in meaningful work, maintain personal relationships and a social life.

For the first time, the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing collected information on:


More detail on these topics is provided in the following segments.


SOCIAL NETWORKS

Interaction with other people is vital to human development. Social relationships and networks can act as protective factors against the onset or recurrence of mental illness and enhance recovery from mental disorders (WHO, 2005). This survey provides information on the social networks that people have access to and the frequency of contact with their family and friends.

This survey collected information on the frequency of contact with family members and friends. The types of contact included:
  • visits;
  • phone calls;
  • letters; or
  • electronic mail messages.

The frequency was measured as:
  • nearly every day;
  • 3-4 days a week;
  • 1-2 days a week;
  • 1-3 days a month;
  • less than once a month; or
  • never.

Some people may have also volunteered that they had 'no family' and/or 'no friends' and therefore did not have anyone to rely on or to confide in.

This survey collected information on people's perceived ability to rely on or confide in their family members and friends if they had a serious problem. Also collected was the number of family members and friends that could be relied on or confided in. People were asked about relying on their family members and friends and confiding in their family members and friends separately. The number of family members/friends that could be relied on or confided in was recorded as:
  • 1-2 family members/friends;
  • 3-4 family members/friends; or
  • 5 or more family members/friends.

People who were married or in a de facto relationship were also asked about their ability to rely on or confide in their spouse or partner if they had a serious problem. They were asked to rate on the following scale, how much they could do so:
  • a lot;
  • some;
  • a little; or
  • not at all.


CAREGIVING

Legal, social and economic factors have changed the delivery of care to people who have a mental disorder. Many people are now treated in the community and they live with or are in close proximity to their family. For these families caregiving is an integral part of everyday life. The family member or members caring for their loved one with a mental disorder often face increased stress and socio-economic effects, further increasing their burden. An increased understanding of the caregiving experience may enable the development and implementation of strategies that facilitate positive outcomes for the caregiver and their affected family member (Wynaden et al, 2006).

This survey collected information on the health problems of immediate family members, including:
  • parents;
  • parents-in-law;
  • grandparents;
  • brothers and sisters;
  • children;
  • aunts and uncles;
  • nieces and nephews; and
  • spouse or partner.

People were asked to identify any immediate family member/s who may have had particular health problems, including:
  • cancer;
  • serious heart problems;
  • serious memory problems, such as senility or dementia;
  • intellectual disability;
  • permanent physical disabilities, such as blindness or paralysis;
  • any other serious chronic physical illness;
  • alcohol or drug problems;
  • depression;
  • anxiety;
  • schizophrenia or psychosis;
  • manic-depression or bipolar disorder; or
  • any other serious chronic mental problem.

People were then asked to describe how their daily life was affected by the health problems of their immediate family member/s. In forming a response, people were asked to consider their time, energy, emotions, finances, and daily activities. Responses were based on the following scale:
  • a lot;
  • some;
  • a little; or
  • not at all.

People who indicated their life was affected 'a lot' or 'some' were then asked about any additional types of things they might do for their immediate family member/s over and above what they would normally do, including:
  • helping them with washing, dressing or eating;
  • helping them with practical things, such as paper work, getting around, housework or taking medications; or
  • spending more time keeping them company or giving emotional support, than they would if the health problems didn't exist.

If none of the above activities were endorsed, people were asked if they spent any time doing other things related to their family member/s health problems.

People were subsequently asked how much time in an average week they spent doing things related to the health problem/s. This was measured in hours per week. If a person answered 'it varies' they were prompted for an average amount of time.

People were also asked to nominate on a scale from 'a lot' to 'not at all' whether their immediate family member/s health problems:
  • caused them embarrassment; or
  • caused them to be worried, anxious or depressed.

They were also asked whether they had any financial costs, either in terms of money spent, or earnings lost, because of their family member/s health problems. Where the response was 'yes', people were asked to provide an approximate dollar amount of money spent in an average month over the previous year.


COMPARISON WITH THE 1997 SURVEY

Information on social networks and caregiving was not collected in 1997.


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