Cancer carers highly stressed
A WA study has found it is often more stressful caring for someone with cancer than having the disease.
A survey by the Cancer Council WA, released as part of National Carers Week, has revealed dangerously high levels of distress in cancer carers in Perth and regional areas — even more than the levels in cancer patients.
Using a “distress thermometer”, the survey found 90 per cent of carers had a score of four or more on a scale of zero to 10, with the highest levels in the Perth Hills, the South West and the metropolitan area. It compared with 75 per cent of cancer patients with a high stress rating.
Carers complained of struggling physically, mentally and financially as a result of looking after someone with cancer.
More than 95 per cent of carers were distressed by emotional issues, three-quarters blamed physical problems and two-thirds were distressed by family problems.
It is estimated about 320,000 West Australians are carers.
The council’s cancer information and support services director Melanie Marsh said the results mirrored those from a 2014 survey and showed the wellbeing of carers needed to be resourced as much as patient care. “The high physical, psychosocial and economic burden carried by caregivers is underreported and under-resourced,” Mrs Marsh said.
“Our current health system is patient-centric and cancer patients regularly report feeling like they’re kept in a bubble during treatment, surrounded by doctors, nurses and specialists.”
Mrs Marsh said unpaid carers took a huge burden off the public health system and their distress manifested in different ways.
“Distress is a mix of anxiety and depressive symptoms and can cause sleeplessness, lack of appetite, trouble concentrating and difficulty carrying on regular activities,” she said. “Although some distress is normal, we’re seeing carers reporting above a selfmanageable level, which is very concerning.”
Mrs Marsh said the problem was likely much greater than the survey revealed.
“Our experience tells us the lack of strong social support networks such as those that exist within country communities means that ironically, people in metro areas tend to feel more isolated,” she said.
Besides free counselling and aid packages for eligible recipients, the Cancer Council runs free meditation, exercise and yoga classes for carers in its Life Now program.