If you are in charge of the day-to-day care of a family member or friend, you should be aware of a common issue that often affects people who take on the many responsibilities that come with becoming a caregiver: caregiver depression. Caregiver depression can take a serious toll on you, so knowing its signs and how to avoid it is very important for both you and your loved one.
What is Caregiver Depression?
Providing care for a loved one in need is often a very rewarding experience in many ways. However, it is often a stressful one as well, both physically and emotionally, which can take a toll on even the most caring and capable caregiver. Additionally, as they strive to provide the very best care to their loved one and find time for all their other day-to-day responsibilities, many caregivers put their own emotional and physical needs on the back burner. Last, but certainly not least, sadness and worry over the circumstances of their loved one can take its toll on caregivers' emotions and stress levels as well. For many, these and other issues can result in feelings of anger, anxiety, sadness, isolation and exhaustion, often topped off by guilt for having all those other feelings – which can easily progress to full blown depression.
What are the Most Common Signs?
Caregiving, in and of itself, does not cause depression, nor is everyone who takes on a caregiving role affected by caregiver depression. That said, it is a very common problem among people who step in to care for a loved one, so it is very important to know and recognize its signs. These may include:
- Becoming easily angered, agitated or frustrated
- Chronic fatigue
- Sleep difficulties
- Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness or guilt
- Difficulty with thinking, memory or concentration
- Appetite or weight changes
- Frequent headaches, muscle aches and/or digestive disturbances
- Loss of interest in usual activities or personal relationships
- Thoughts of suicide or death
If you recognize any of these signs in yourself, reach out for help. Untreated depression can cause serious physical and emotional problems, so don't delay in seeing your doctor. Additionally, an accurate diagnosis is important, since certain health conditions and medications can cause depression-like symptoms, issues that may be overlooked long enough to become serious medical problems if you simply assume they are related to depression.
Tips for Avoiding or Reducing Caregiver Depression
While it may seem easier said than done, making time for yourself – regularly – is essential to safeguarding your emotional health. Make arrangements for a day off at least once a week. Perhaps a friend or family member can step in for you that day, or you can look into hiring a home health care worker to give you the break you need to take good care of yourself. Use that time to do something you really enjoy – preferably an activity that will get you out among friends and distract you from the worries and responsibilities of caregiving.
Last, but not least, make a point of getting some exercise every day – even if you can only spare 10 minutes at a time. Not only is exercise essential to maintaining your physical health, it has proven benefits in nurturing emotional health as well. In fact, exercise can, according to CaregiverStress.com, be just as effective in relieving depressive symptoms as anti-depressant drugs.