Researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong's school of public health investigated the impact of mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) on the mental health of caregivers looking after chronically ill family members.

Caregivers of persons with chronic conditions who scored 7 or above in the Caregiver Strain Index were randomly assigned to an 8-week MBSR group (n = 70) or a self-help control group (n = 71).

Validated instruments were used to assess the changes in symptoms of depression and anxiety, quality of life, self-efficacy, self-compassion and mindfulness. Assessments were conducted at baseline, post-intervention and at the 3-month follow-up.

Compared to the participants in the control group, subjects in the MBSR group had a significantly greater decrease in depressive symptoms at post-intervention and at 3 months post-intervention (p < 0.01).

The improvement in state anxiety symptoms was significantly greater among caregivers in the MBSR group than those of the control group at post-intervention (p = 0.007), although this difference was not statistically significant at 3 months post-intervention (p = 0.084).

There was also a statistically significant larger increase in self-efficacy (controlling negative thoughts; p = 0.041) and mindfulness (p = 0.001) among participants in the MBSR group at the 3-month follow-up, compared to the participants in the control group.

No statistically significant group effects (MBSR vs. control) were found in perceived stress, quality of life or self-compassion.

Investigators conclude that MBSR appears to be a feasible and acceptable intervention to improve mental health among family caregivers with a significant care burden, although further studies that include an active control group are needed to make the findings more conclusive.

Citation: Hou RJ1, Wong SY, Yip BH, Hung AT, Lo HH, Chan PH, Lo CS, Kwok TC, Tang WK, Mak WW, Mercer SW, Ma SH. The effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction program on the mental health of family caregivers: a randomized controlled trial. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics. 2014; 83 (1): pp.45-53.