Caregiver depression can take a toll on you and your ability to care for your loved one. Understand the signs of caregiver depression — and know how to prevent it. Caregiving is often physically and emotionally stressful. In an effort to provide the best care possible, you might put your loved one’s needs before your own. In turn, you could develop feelings of sadness, anger and loneliness. Sometimes, these emotions can trigger caregiver depression.
Caregiving does not cause depression, nor will everyone who provides care experience the negative feelings that go with depression. But in an effort to provide the best possible care for a family member or friend, caregivers often sacrifice their own physical and emotional needs and the emotional and physical experiences involved with providing care can strain even the most capable person. The resulting feelings of anger, anxiety, sadness, isolation, exhaustion—and then guilt for having these feelings—can exact a heavy toll.
Caregiving is hard — and can lead to feelings of stress, guilt, anger, sadness, isolation — and depression. Depression affects different people in different ways and at different times. For example, someone may experience depression right after their family member has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Other caregivers may experience it as Alzheimer’s progresses and the cognitive abilities of the person with Alzheimer’s diminish.
Signs and symptoms of depression include:
• Becoming easily agitated or frustrated
• Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
• Feelings of hopelessness
• Thoughts of death, dying or suicide
• Disturbed sleep
• Fatigue or loss of energy
• Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities
• Difficulty thinking or concentrating
• Changes in appetite and weight
• Physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders and pain
Recognizing that the stress you are experiencing can sometimes lead to depression is the first step to preventing it — and burnout. To take that step, talk about your feelings, frustrations, and fears with the palliative care team’s social worker or a mental health professional. Talking helps you understand what’s going on for you and for the person in your care. It helps you come to grips with the fact that you are not in total control of the situation.
Early attention to symptoms of depression may help to prevent the development of a more serious depression over time. The National Institute of Mental Health offers the following recommendations:
• Set realistic goals in light of the depression and assume a reasonable amount of responsibility.
• Break large tasks into small ones, set some priorities, and do what you can as you can.
• Try to be with other people and to confide in someone; it is usually better than being alone and secretive.
• Participate in activities that may make you feel better, such as mild exercise, going to a movie or ballgame, or attending a religious, social or community event.
• Expect your mood to improve gradually, not immediately. Feeling better takes time.
• It is advisable to postpone important decisions until the depression has lifted. Before deciding to make a significant transition—change jobs, get married or divorced—discuss it with others who know you well and have a more objective view of your situation.
• People rarely “snap out of” a depression. But they can feel a little better day by day.
• Remember, positive thinking will replace the negative thinking that is part of the depression. The negative thinking will be reduced as your depression responds to treatment.
• Let your family and friends help you.