How to Handle Depression When You Are A Caregiver
While being a caregiver doesn’t automatically lead to depression, depression can happen when you are a caregiver. Caregiving is a stressful situation filled with many emotional challenges. It isn’t surprising that caregivers can go through depression, even if you’ve never struggled with depression before.
Watching a loved one struggle with health or cognitive challenges can be overwhelming. On top of that, most caregivers are in their new role for 5 – 10 years. That’s a really long time to put aside your own goals and to give so much of yourself to someone you love. Depression can be a natural consequence.
Everyone goes through periods where they may have the “blues.” Feelings of sadness, loneliness or grief can be the blues, particularly if they don’t last long. If you aren’t sure if you are actually struggling with depression or just have the blues, here are some common signs of depression:
- Depressed mood, sadness or an empty feeling
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you once enjoyed
- Significant weight loss or weight gain
- Inability to sleep or excessive sleep
- Restlessness, irritation or feelings of “dragging”
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt
- Difficulty thinking or concentrating or indecisiveness
- Frequent anger or frustration
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide or suicide attempts
If you are experiencing these symptoms, you may be dealing with depression. If you have five or more of the above symptoms, you may be suffering from major depression.
What To Do When The Caregiver Has Depression
Caregivers rarely get a break, so you may be plowing through, regardless of your depression. While that may work for the short term, you need to address the depression for your overall health and wellbeing. Depression is real. It isn’t just a bit of sadness. Depression is a medical condition that goes beyond life’s ordinary ups and downs.
If you suspect you are struggling with depression, your first step is to make an appointment with your primary physician. I know you are busy and there aren’t enough hours in the day, but think of it this way, if you don’t take time to care for yourself, no one else will get care. You can’t pour from an empty cup.
Here are some treatment options your doctor may recommend:
- Sessions with a therapist
- A combination of the two
Everyone is different so it may take time to get yourself back on track or you may have some trial and error with different medications. Depression is a medical condition so give yourself time to recover.
In addition (not instead of) to medical intervention, there are things you can do at home to help your overall mental wellbeing.
- Exercise: Exercise isn’t just good for your physical wellbeing. Research shows that it can be an effective treatment for mild depression.
- Natural Supplements: Natural supplements are not a replacement for medical intervention, however, there are some supplements that can be effective. The Mayo Clinic has a list of supplements that have been used to help with depression, however, before taking a supplement, you should speak with your doctor first.
- Eat Well: Maintaining a healthy diet can make you feel better about yourself and improve your overall health.
- Improve Your Sleep: Depression can cause sleep issues, however, sleep is critical to overall health and wellbeing. If you suffer from insomnia or have problems sleeping, try practicing better sleep hygiene.
- Change Your Routine: If you feel like you’re stuck in a rut, try to incorporate some change to your routine. Find something you enjoy (or used to enjoy) and squeeze it back into your life.
- Take Care of Yourself: Being a caregiver is full of to dos and a lot of times, the caregiver falls to the bottom of the to do list. Squeeze some self-care back into your life. It doesn’t have to take a long time, cost a lot of money or be difficult. Just find small ways to care for yourself. You deserve it.
- Practice Mindfulness/Meditation: Mindfulness and meditation have been found to have many health benefits. It is also something you can do for free, from your own home. If you are struggling to get started, consider downloading a free app or checking out the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center for free self-guided meditations.
While depression isn’t something you can “snap out of,” there are ways to get past depression. Getting help is usually the hardest step. Remind yourself that you are valuable and you deserve care.