Background: The aim of this study was to examine the experience of care giving for people with anorexia nervosa and to compare it with the experiences of those people who care for a person with a psychotic illness.
Method: Carers (parents, siblings and husbands) of people with eating disorders who had experienced an episode of inpatient care for anorexia nervosa (n=71) were given the General Health Questionnaire and the Experience of Caregiving Inventory. A sample of carers (N=68) of people with a psychotic illness from the community were used as a comparison group. A subgroup of the carers (n=20) of people with anorexia nervosa were asked to write about their experiences.
Results: The clinical samples had a similar duration of illness, but the patients with anorexia nervosa were significantly younger and a larger proportion were living at home. The general health scores were significantly higher in the carers of anorexia nervosa and they experienced higher levels of difficulties in most areas of caregiving. A variety of variables from the Caregiving Inventory contributed to the level of psychological distress, accounting for 36% of the variance. The themes of guilt and shame were additional dimensions that were addressed in the letters.
Conclusions: Carers of people with anorexia nervosa are challenged by the difficulties their role produces.