The Role of the Caregiver: Making the Difference for Someone with Depression
Mark Pollack, MD, chief medical officer of Myriad Neuroscience, maker of the GeneSight test, shares his thoughts on how to be a good caregiver to someone with depression. Dr. Pollack has served as chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Rush University Medical Center and director of its Mental Health Service Line. Dr. Pollack was director of the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. He has served as president of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America and former chairman of its Scientific Advisory Board.
Living with and caring for family members with depression is a large – and largely thankless – job. The addition of pandemic-related working and schooling from home has made the burden nearly unmanageable.
Yet, your support can make all the difference. There are so many people who struggle alone, whose loved ones are not available or willing to help.
In my experience, one of the best ways to help is by being informed.
Get Help, Keep Talking, Self Care
Caregiving is not easy – and it’s especially not easy when the person you are caring for has depression. We shared a post on the GeneSight website that included this sentiment that may be all too familiar for caregivers:
“…unfortunately, we live in a world where if you break a bone, everyone comes to sign the cast. But if you tell people you are depressed, they run the other way.”
What I have learned in my many years of working to end depression is that persistence is key. Most people who are struggling with depression do not have the energy to find the help they need. It falls to caregivers, loved ones, to those who care enough.
Here are three pieces of advice that I hope will be helpful for caregivers.
- Get Help
There are so many barriers to access to mental health care: insurance, availability of practitioners, finding medication that helps – not hurts – your loved one. Further, stigma is a real issue for many people – of different cultures, ethnicities, and religious influence.
For an older generation that was taught to keep a stiff upper lip, it is even more ingrained. In fact, in late 2020, the GeneSight® Mental Health Monitor, a nationwide poll, showed that nearly two-thirds (61%) of Americans age 65 or older who have concerns about having depression will not seek treatment. In fact, nearly 1 in 3 (33%) seniors who are concerned they might be suffering from depression believe they can “snap out” of it on their own.
The ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ mindset of some seniors and reluctance to talk about mental health are hindering them from getting the help they need. People will seek treatment for conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes. Depression is no different. It is an illness that can and should be treated.
- Keep Talking
It can be awkward to always bring up someone else’s mental health but it’s important. It’s particularly difficult to talk about suicide, yet it’s important. People often feel like they are a burden, whether they are young or old. They feel like the world and their family would be better off without them. It weighs on them. Help them to articulate it.
Patience, compassion and active listening can help. For some individuals talking to them about feeling “stressed” as opposed to “depressed” will be less likely to engender defensiveness or denial. Similarly, talking to or encouraging them to talk with their clinician about their depression symptoms, may be more acceptable.
- Take Care of Yourself
Just because you are filling this incredibly important role of caregiver does not mean you should neglect your own mental health. In fact, you will not be as effective a caregiver if you do NOT address your own needs.
Our articles are for informational purposes only and are reviewed by our Medical Information team, which includes PharmDs, MDs, and PhDs. Do not make any changes to your current medications or dosing without consulting your healthcare provider.
The GeneSight test must be ordered by and used only in consultation with a healthcare provider who can prescribe medications. As with all genetic tests, the GeneSight test results have limitations and do not constitute medical advice. The test results are designed to be just one part of a larger, complete patient assessment, which would include proper diagnosis and consideration of your medical history, other medications you may be taking, your family history, and other factors.
If you are a healthcare provider and interested in learning more about the GeneSight test, please call us at 855.891.9415. If you are a patient, please talk with your doctor to see if the GeneSight test may be helpful.