Caregivers and Depression
Taking care of a relative, friend, or client with a physical or mental illness can consume your life. Depending on the needs of the individual receiving care, caregivers provide physical assistance, mental stimulation, and emotional support. Usually, the needs of the relative, friend, or client come first, sacrificing a caregiver’s physical and psychological well-being. These sacrifices, along with the guilt, anger, and frustration often associated with caregiving for a loved one or as a profession, can lead to carer’s depression.
Symptoms of this type of depression include:
- Frustration, irritability, and anger over minor issues
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
- Changes in sleeping patterns, either insomnia or excessive sleeping
- Changes in appetite, with decreased appetite and weight loss in most people, or increased food cravings and weight gain in some
- Extreme reactions to stress, agitation or restlessness
- Fatigue, tiredness and lack of energy, to the point in which small tasks require more effort than usual
- Worthless or guilty feelings, a fixation on past failures or blaming yourself when things go wrong
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Thoughts of death or suicide
Preventing and Treating Depression in Caregivers
The most effective way to deal with depression in caregivers is to prevent it. Caregiving should not be a solitary responsibility, but a shared one with help from other family members and friends and community resources. Caregivers need frequent breaks and should freely ask family and friends to deliver a hot meal or sit with the individual receiving care for a few hours.
Most communities have caregiver services that are based on the ability to pay or are covered by the individual’s insurance. Services that may be available in your community include home health aides, adult day care, respite services, transportation services, and home-delivered meals. Caregivers should contact senior service organizations or county referral hotlines for more information.
As a caregiver, taking care of yourself may seem selfish or even impossible. It is neither, and it is extremely necessary. Caring for yourself and taking time alone will help you lessen the stress and give you the physical and emotional endurance to keep doing what you have to do. Use these tips every day to take care of yourself.
- Breathe. Taking deep, purposeful breaths will decrease your heart rate, aid in digestion, and renew your physical and mental energy.
- Take time for other relationships. Spend time away from home with family and friends. If you cannot leave home for extended periods, have them over to visit you.
- Find time for activities that you enjoy, even if you do not feel like doing anything.
- Eat healthy meals to nourish your body.
- Exercise, even if you take a short walk each day.
- Try to sleep between 6-8 hours per night.
- Pamper yourself with a warm bath, a manicure or pedicure, or a massage.
- Laugh whenever you can.
- Journal your thoughts and feelings to clear your mind of the many emotions you experience. Seeing your thoughts on paper helps you gain perspective.
- Believe in yourself and know that you are doing the best you can.
If you are experiencing symptoms of carer’s depression, you should make an appointment with your doctor or a mental health provider. Depression does no simply go away. This medical condition requires medication, therapy, or other treatment. If left untreated, depression can greatly affect your physical and emotional health and limit the quantity and quality of care you can give to your relative, friend, or client.
Mayo Clinic. “Caregiver Depression: Prevention Counts." www.mayoclinic.com/health/caregiver-depression/MY01264
Wayne, Melissa S. and Segal, Jeanne. “Support for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregivers: What the Caregiver Needs." www.helpguide.org/elder/alzheimers_disease_dementia_support_caregiver.htm