We recently came across a meme that ended with:
“…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.”
Many caregivers of loved ones with depression can relate. When someone is suffering from cancer or recovering from heart surgery, neighbors and friends may organize meal trains, bring over gifts, and/or offer to clean your house.
However, when the illness is depression, caregivers may feel like they have to “go it alone.”
That lack of support can also be felt by the person suffering from depression.
“When I found myself struggling in the winter of 2017 — when I was deep in the throes of a depressive episode; unable to work, eat, parent, or sleep — my phone was silent. No one asked me how I was. No one ‘stopped by,’ or offered to help, and my cabinets were empty,” writes Kimberly Zapata, founder of Greater Than: Illness, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering teens and young adults struggling with mental illness, in a Scary Mommy blog post.
Caregiving can take a toll on the caregiver, especially those with little support. A “conservative estimate reports that 20% of family caregivers suffer from depression, twice the rate of the general population.”
How Isolation Can Contribute to Depression
“Remarkably, 25% of Americans have no meaningful social support at all – not a single person they can confide in. And over half of all Americans report having no close confidants or friends outside their immediate family,” according to an article in Psychology Today.
The Family Caregiver Alliance warns that “feelings of isolation and loneliness can be caused by a withdrawal from previous habits and lifestyle. While friends continue on their daily routines, some caregivers are left to feel alone in their caregiving duties. Likewise, caregivers without support from other caregivers in similar situations may feel as though no one really understands their situation. This can lead to a withdrawal from social activities and relationships that they previously enjoyed.”
Not having social support is hard on a person’s psyche and it leads to huge risks. Isolation can be a huge risk factor for the onset of major depression, the Psychology Today article further states. So, caregivers need to watch for warning signs of major depressive disorder within themselves.
Look for Signs of Caregiver Stress
Stress, which can be emotional, spiritual or physical in nature, can also take its toll on caregivers.
“Too much stress, especially over a long time, can harm your health,” writes the Mayo Clinic. “As a caregiver, you’re more likely to experience symptoms of depression or anxiety. In addition, you may not get enough sleep or physical activity, or eat a balanced diet — which increases your risk of medical problems, such as heart disease and diabetes.”
Mayo lists some of the signs of stress as
- Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried
- Feeling tired often
- Getting too much sleep or not enough sleep
- Gaining or losing weight
- Becoming easily irritated or angry
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Feeling sad
- Having frequent headaches, bodily pain or other physical problems
- Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications
Further, an article in Psychology Today shares several reasons why stress can lead to depression, including:
- Stress can disrupt healthy coping strategies. For example, caregivers may be so “stressed out” that they may be exhausted; as a result, they skip their regular workout, eat junk food or engage in other unhealthy habits.
- Bad moods caused by stress generate further stress. A stressed caregiver may snap at their loved one, which causes tension in the relationship – resulting in anger, guilt and other stress-causing emotions.
- Strained relationships. Stress can lead to people being less emotionally available for others.
These stressors, especially if unaddressed, can lead to depressive feelings. While caregivers may recognize the symptoms of depression, the key is recognizing those symptoms in yourself. If a caregiver is feeling any depressive symptom for more than two weeks, they should talk with their doctor.
How to Offer Support for a Caregiver
If you suspect a caregiver may be depressed, listening may be the most important thing you can do. The Family Caregiver Alliance writes that offering “respite care relief, positive feedback from others, positive self-talk, and recreational activities are helpful in avoiding depression.” Further, it suggests that caregivers should take time for themselves – not only for their health, but for those who they are caring for.
Mental Health America (MHA) offers a toolkit designed to help caregivers who are caring for those suffering from depression and other mental illnesses. The toolkit offers a variety of resources, including fact sheets on goal setting, treatment supports and how to prepare for an appointment.
According to its website, MHA believes “when we take the time to invest in our mental health, we can focus on creating an inclusive world for caregivers and their loved ones to thrive, together.”
November is National Caregivers Month. To check out more information on this important topic, visit our other blog posts about this topic: https://genesight.com/blog/patient/running-on-empty-what-can-caregiving-parents-do/ and https://genesight.com/blog/patient/alzheimers-depression-what-caregivers-need-to-know/
This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Do not make any changes to your current medications or dosing without consulting your healthcare provider.
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