Family caregivers are at an elevated risk of mental health illnesses like depression. The role you navigate each day as a family caregiver is both difficult and complicated. While caregiving itself doesn’t cause depression, the fact is that many caregivers sacrifice their own wellbeing (including physical and mental health) in favor of their loved one’s needs. This behavior, if left unchecked, may become a perfect storm that can trigger depression in some caregivers. In this article, we’re going to discuss some of the symptoms of depression to look out for as well as provide tips for caregivers to prevent or avoid depression.
Symptoms of Depression
Depression goes well beyond a mood or week of feeling down. It’s a chronic series of symptoms that persist beyond a few weeks. Here are some common symptoms of depression to look for:
A change in eating habits resulting in unwanted weight gain or loss
A change in sleep patterns (either too much sleep or not enough)
Feeling tired all the time
A loss of interest in people and/or activities that once brought you pleasure
Becoming easily agitated or angered
Feeling that nothing you do is good enough
Thoughts of death or suicide, or attempting suicide
Ongoing physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain.
Things that Contribute to the Risk of Depression
Some caregiving situations are more prone to the risk of depression than others. Some of these risk factors include:
A chronic and/or progressive illness in the loved one under your care.
Your care recipient showing abnormal, erratic, or disruptive behavior (as is common with ailments like dementia).
Your care recipient has a cognitive impairment (such as Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia).
They are under your care for a long period of time.
The care recipient is your spouse.
Your care recipient shows functional and/or physical deficits (as is common with progressive diseases like MS or ALS, or a severe physical or brain trauma).
You’re caring for someone with a form of dementia (such as Alzheimer’s disease).
Male and female caregivers handle the symptoms and risks of depression differently. Often men cite being less likely to seek help for depression and are thus, less likely to be diagnosed.
Clinical Treatment Options
You may now wonder what the clinical treatment options are for someone who is diagnosed with depression. Let’s explore those next:
Psychotherapy (also known as mental health therapy) is when you are referred to a therapist to complete one of the below:
Cognitive and Behavioral Therapy. The goal of cognitive and behavioral therapy is to identify and work through self-limiting behaviors and tendencies by giving the caregiver a toolbox of practical skills that allow you to both enjoy the positive events in your life and manage the problems you’re facing.
Interpersonal Therapy. The goal of interpersonal therapy is to understand and improve your communication skills so you can improve the relationships in your life. The therapist will help you self-evaluate problems in your communication style or quantity to help you better engage with other people.
There are other types of therapy that may be offered if applicable to your situation.
Antidepressants are a form of medication given to stabilize your mood. There are different types we’ll explore now:
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) (Examples: Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil): SSRI Medications work by stabilizing levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter. Low levels of serotonin have been linked to depression.
Tricyclics (Examples: Norpramin, Pamelor, Sinequan): Tricyclics are an earlier family of antidepressants that increase the levels of neurotransmitters in your brain. These are less common due to the higher potential for side effects.
Dosages and prescriptions are often a bit of a trial-and-error process to see what works best for you, so strong and frequent communication with your doctor during this process is crucial.
While depression is an illness and is not always preventable or simple, there are some things you can do to keep your risk of developing depression lower.
Exercise. Do a yoga video on YouTube, go for a walk around the neighborhood, take a dance class, etc. Any type of consistent exercise will do wonders for your mental fitness as well.
Eat healthy well-balanced meals. Make sure your meals are consistent (3 per day), healthy, and balanced. Note: Skipping meals leads to energy crashes and spikes, which can impact your mental health long-term.
Sleep. A consistent sleep schedule is one that includes as close to 8 hours per night as possible. Sleep is crucially important for mental clarity, health, longevity, and alertness.
Take deep breaths. Inhale for 3-5 seconds, hold it for 3-5 seconds, and release it for 3-5 seconds. Repeat this several times until you start to feel relaxed.
Journal. Try to keep a log of your food, water, and exercise intakes each day and pair it with a mood-tracker. This journal will bring forward crucial data that will help you recognize patterns and avoid behaviors, foods, etc. that contribute to a poor mental state.
Ask for and accept help. Caregiving is extremely difficult - be prepared to ask for help when you need it and to accept it when it’s offered to help create more of a balance in your life.
Caregivers are likely to be more stressed, anxious, or depressed than the general population. They are also at an increased risk of physical ailments or declining health due to stress during (and sometimes for years after) caregiving. While this situation may feel lonely, as a caregiver, you are not alone.
For further reading and resources, we invite you to check out our library of information for family caregivers by clicking here. You are also welcome to give us a call at 800-543-8312 to find out more about how we can support you in your caregiving journey.