family caregivers face depression

As caregivers, we know all too well that our emotions can get strained to the breaking point. In a previous post, we delved into one of the emotions that caregivers wrestle with: the double-edged sword of anger. But now we explore its dangerous byproduct: depression.

You’re not alone

The Family Caregiver Alliance found that around 50% of caregivers suffer clinically significant symptoms of depression– that’s 32.8 million caregivers.

Caregivers’ many responsibilities are overburdening.  Many often feel like they’re completely in over their heads. At first, caregivers aren’t necessarily well-trained in the nuances of treatment so they may end up spending more time with the patient just trying to get it right or try to avoid feeling guilty by simply being by their side longer.  Consequently, caregivers end up losing focus on themselves.  This is all perfectly understandable but sometimes we don’t recognize it as a shared caregiver experience.

Instead, we feel upset and frustrated by all of our perceived inadequacies, often resulting in depression.  Such are the many so-called “hazards of caregiving,” making those caring for the patient the Invisible Patient. Depression a “silent crisis.” Especially among caregivers.

Gaining strength

Don’t stay in hiding.  Don’t remain silent.  Recognize that you may need help. Believe it’s okay to find help.  It’s not a sign of weakness.  It’s empowering yourself!  Depression is kind of like a sponge, where negative thoughts are easily absorbed.  When you soak up all the misguided and self-doubting thoughts and energy, the weight becomes oppressive.  The more you absorb, the heavier it becomes.  Fortunately, you can wring out that sponge of yours!  Just know how to recognize the signs. These feelings aren’t unique to you.  This is not some defect that you and you alone have.  Whatever it is, you can overcome it.

Depression comes in many forms. Sometimes the word is used nonchalantly.  You’ll hear people say they’re depressed when they’re having a down day and it’s not all that serious. Consequently, people will generally dismiss depression as not that serious.  Then there’s the other side of the spectrum, which is clinical depression.  This is the kind of debilitating, hopeless feeling that could lead to health problems and even suicidal tendencies.  In either case, depression is very real and has a way of beating us up. Fortunately, we have many ways to help ourselves.

It’s important to know the signs of depression so you can distinguish between what could be short-term emotional fatigue related to caregiving  or something more serious.

What to look for

The Mayo Clinic lists some of the tell-tale signs of depression:

  • Feeling hopeless, like nothing you do is good enough
  • Losing interest in activities you usually enjoy and also in people, being anti-social
  • Getting irritated easily, even over small stuff
  • Changes in sleep (insomnia or over-sleeping)
  • Changes in appetite (losing appetite or gaining weight, binging)
  • Feeling restless and agitated
  • Getting fatigued easily
  • Sudden, unexplained aches and pains that don’t respond to treatment
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness.  Blaming yourself for past failures
  • Stewing with negativity.  Embracing futility, rather than seeing the brighter side of things
  • Thinking about death and dying (or possibly suicide)

Know what to do

How do you care for your depression on top of everything else you have to do?

  • Let your doctor know what’s going on so you can be put on the right path to wellness.  Get a plan and stay on course.
  • Seek the support those who understand, like family members or a caregiver’s support group. Get feedback from people who have had similar caregiving experiences. They’ve been there. They know. They can guide you.
  • Avoid over or under-committing.  Map out your personal obligations and activities as well as those for your loved one so you can set a schedule.  Set realistic goals.  You’re not expected to do everything at once.
  • Draw strength from family and friends.  Call someone and get reacquainted.  Hug, love, share, laugh.
  • Be good to yourself.  It starts with compassionate thinking about yourself and others.
  • Breathe deep breaths of fresh air.
  • Remind yourself that you’re giving the gift of helping someone else. You’re providing comfort.  That’s one of the greatest things we can do as caregivers– and as human beings.
  • Remember that time takes time. Regardless of the cause, you will need time to heal.

Epilogue: Moving Forward

It’s been said that forgiveness is the ultimate weapon.

We can forgive our loved ones for past transgressions and for any trials they’re putting us through now. We can forgive ourselves for feeling judged, put through the ringer and in-demand. We can forgive ourselves for having some faults. We are human, after all. We aren’t machines. We have emotions and can channel our energy towards the positive. We can relieve ourselves. Forgiveness is like gentle rain flowing off our backs. It’s a soothing release when we learn how to allow ourselves the opportunity to get better, to be happier. Every one of us deserves it. Forgiveness is powerful stuff and a subject we’ll be looking at in more detail in later posts.

I invite your participation in our forums.  If you have thoughts on depression, or “the blues” or have some personal words of wisdom, please share. Let’s move the discussion forward. Thanks.

Written by Arthur Roeser
Arthur retells his story caring for his mother and father, covering many common issues caregivers face through first person narration, such as: hoarding, sibling conflict, parents unwilling to be helped, finances, communication with medical professionals, guilt, anxiety, stress and shame.

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  1. My husband and i have been together for 16 years, married 6 years, and have lived together for 11 of those years. Within 6 months of living together, we took in a few nieces and a nephew that had CP. To say it was a struggle is an understatement. With just one of my nieces still living with us and a future of it soon being just my husband and myself, both of my elderly in laws became ill. Their ability to live alone wasn’t an option anymore due to their health. So, almost 5 years ago we moved them in also. I became a fulltime caregiver to both of them within that first year. The depression and anger while they were still alive was real. No family or financial support, quitting my fulltime job, in laws set in their ways, missing out on what life I used to have, are just a few of the things that started to get to me. Taking care of them consumed every thing in my life. I usually cried when talking about taking care of them. I would end up crying at their appointments. I finally had a melt down on one of my doctor visits. The topic as usual was my mother in laws (father in law passed 2 years before at this point) failing health and my fealings of being helpless. My doctor looked at me, handed me a box of tissues, and said, “Would you like something for that?” I replied with, “Like they make anything for what I’m going through.” He said, “You have what is referred to as Caregivers Stress Syndrome. It is finally being recognized, and yes they suggest anti-depressants for it.” I know a lot of you are probably against taking pills for your emotions basically, but you have to remember to take care of them, you have to take care of yourself first. Otherwise, you aren’t doing them any good. Between taking my new anti-depressant and knowing my mother in laws time here was coming to an end, I never imagined that I would have a new depression to deal with once she too was gone. I used to cry and get mad because I could barely leave the house while she was here. Once she was gone and I finished grieving over her loss, I wouldn’t and couldn’t leave my house. I was excited to join the land of the living again. But I made no attempt to do so. I made excuses for everything as to why I couldn’t make it, or didn’t show up to things. I stuck to her schedule. I slept a lot. My husband was worried. He tried almost everything. He would tell people he was worried about me, and then tell me he was telling people. I was not happy about it. Embarrassed actually. I just wanted to be left alone. Now I get to hear about it when I do go out. I’m now making an effort. Somedays I have to force myself. I just don’t want to be viewed as depressed or weak by anyone after having been viewed as being so strong for so long. When all of this was going on while they were still with us, groups like this, that I found on Facebook, and a few friends who had similar experiences, are the only emotional support I felt I had. I thank God for those pills and these groups for helping me get through it. I thank my own ego for helping me get through the aftermath.

  2. I’ve been a spouse caregiver for 13 yrs and the last 5i have battled depression . I didn’t know that was the problem for at least 2yrs. The day I realized my home wasn’t kept the way I always had done before the accident is when it hit me ! It’s a daily battle with emotion ,remarks from people,arguments with caree,everyday things that go wrong and stress. Stress is the worst . I still fight it as all our FREINDS and his family probably thought he would never live this long . So they all stopped even calling . It makes me hurt for him and myself . Hardest thing in the world to do ,but wouldn’t ever put him in a home 🙂 hang in there

  3. omg….Carol, I can’t believe you have been dealing with inhuman work hours and (let’s face it) an abusive situation for so long. I guess the reason her family is “estranged” is pretty obvious. This woman is your employer, not family. I know you feel she is your responsibility, but honestly, she isn’t. You can start to untangle yourself from this mess – now – by calling Adult Protective Services and getting a caseworker involved. If she needs to go into a care facility, so be it.
    No one should be treated like a slave and abused by an “employer”. It’s hard enough when it’s a family member. APS will probably get in touch with the family and let them know it’s time to step up, or find a facility to put her in. You’ve let yourself get drawn in too deep, and the cost to you is to much to endure.

  4. I was a caregiver for my husband at home until he passed away in his own bed. That was my plan…that he be at home with me. My emotions ran the gamut and I was entitled to every one of them. I dealt with them, got through it , and am a stronger person for it. He was diagnosed in 2009 with Alzheimer’s; had shown little signs 5 years prior to that. He passed away in 2013. I went through denial, anger, desperation, frustration, hopelessness…all of it. It was natural and normal. Got through it and savored every minute of the rest of his life and was determined to give him the best end of life possible. I have no regrets and no guilt. It is all about attitude.

  5. I am a private caregiver for 3 years now. I am on the job 96 hours a week, and I feel like I am neglecting my own family to take care of this lady. My employer is estranged from her own family, and literally has no friends. I encourage her to meet people, but she refuses, and soaks all of my energy and positive attitude from me every week. She is cranky, very negative, and very demanding. She is unappreciative, and says hurtful things to me constantly. I don’t think I’m clinically depressed, but I feel lonely for my own family, and life back. What can I do to reclaim my own life, yet not abandon my employer?

    • You should have to put up with that. You can always find some one else to work for that not so mentally draining you.that the only way to get your live back there are good people that would appreciate all that you do for them.good luck


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