Caregiver depression: Prevention counts

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Caregiver depression: Prevention counts

Caregiving is often physically and emotionally stressful. In an effort to provide the best care possible, you might put your loved one's needs before your own. In turn, you may develop feelings of sadness, anger and guilt. Sometimes, these emotions can trigger caregiver depression.

What are the symptoms of caregiver depression?

Signs and symptoms of caregiver depression include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Irritability or frustration, even over small matters
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Changes in appetite — depression often causes decreased appetite and weight loss, but in some people it causes increased cravings for food and weight gain
  • Agitation or restlessness — for example, pacing, hand-wringing or an inability to sit still
  • Fatigue, tiredness and loss of energy — even small tasks may seem to require a lot of effort
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or blaming yourself when things aren't going right
  • Frequent thoughts of death, dying or suicide
  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches

What can I do if I develop caregiver depression?

If you're experiencing signs or symptoms of caregiver depression, consult your doctor or a mental health provider. Depression isn't something you can simply "snap out" of — and left untreated, depression can lead to various emotional and physical problems. It can also affect the quality of care you're able to provide for your loved one. However, most people who have depression feel better with the help of medication, psychological counseling or other treatment.

What can I do to prevent caregiver depression?

You can take active steps to prevent caregiver depression. For example:

  • Reach out for help. Don't wait until you feel overwhelmed to ask for help caring for a loved one. If possible, get your whole family involved in planning and providing care. Seek out respite services and a caregiver support group. A support network can keep you from feeling isolated, depleted and depressed.
  • Determine your commitments. Figure out what you can do to help care for your loved one and fulfill your personal obligations — and what you can't. Thinking about and planning for what you can control may make you feel less helpless.
  • Remember other relationships. Caregiving can take time away from replenishing personal relationships — but showing loved ones and friends you care about them can give you strength and hope.
  • Take time for yourself. Participate in activities that allow you to relax and have fun. Go to a movie, watch a ballgame or attend a birthday party or religious gathering. Physical activity and meditation also can help reduce stress.
  • Stay positive. Caregiving allows you to give something back and make a difference in your loved one's life. It may also have spiritual meaning. Focus on these positive aspects of caregiving to help prevent depression.

Remember, if you think you're depressed, seek help. Proper treatment can help you feel your best.

Last Updated: 2010-07-09
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