Informal caregiving patterns and trajectories of psychological distress in the UK Household Longitudinal Study

Publication type

Journal Article

Published in

Psychological Medicine


Rebecca E. Lacey, Anne McMunn and Elizabeth Webb

Publication date


Approximately seven million people in the UK are engaged in informal caregiving. Informal caregivers are at risk of poorer mental and physical health. However, less is known about how the relationship between the informal caregiving and psychological distress changes over time. The aim of this study was to investigate longitudinal associations between the informal caregiving and psychological distress amongst UK men and women aged 16+.
Data were analysed from the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS, n = 9368), a nationally representative study of UK households. Longitudinal linear mixed modelling was used to estimate associations between the longitudinal patterns of informal caregiving (non-caregiver/one episode of 1–2 years/intermittent caregiving/3+ years caregiving) and trajectories of psychological distress across seven waves of UKHLS data.
Informal caregiving was not associated with psychological distress for men. Women engaged in long-term (⩾3 years) or intermittent caregiving had higher levels of psychological distress at the point of initiation, compared with women who were not caregivers throughout the study period (3+ years caregiver: regression coefficient 0.48, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.07–0.89; intermittent caregiver: regression coefficient 0.47, 95% CI 0.02–0.92). Trajectories of psychological distress changed little over time, suggesting a plateau effect for these caregiving women.
Women engaged in long-term or repeated shorter episodes of informal caregiving reported more symptoms of psychological distress than non-caregiving women. Given the increased risk of reporting psychological distress and the increasing importance of the informal care sector, the risk of poorer mental health of informal caregivers should be a priority for public health.





Disability, Older People, Psychology, Well Being, Health, Life Course Analysis and Caregiving


Online Early; Open Access; © Cambridge University Press 2018; This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Sign up to our newsletter