Caring for an aging loved one may create an overabundance of emotions. The uncertain future, career and financial worries, difficult life decisions and the potential for an unwanted lifestyle change can create fear, hopelessness, anger, resentment, and helplessness. All of this will affect your physical, emotional and mental well-being. It can even challenge your spiritual foundation.
To be an effective caregiver, you need to protect your own health and well-being while you protect your loved one. You do this by standing up for yourself, especially when you are feeling pressure from your loved one, other family members or the medical community regarding your caregiving role. You must also set limits - those things that you are or are not willing and/or capable of doing and what you have time do to. It can be the difference between feeling in control of the situation or feeling out of control and in despair. Then discuss those limits with your loved one and your family so you can develop ongoing and alternate plans of care.
Some people see depression as a sign of weakness.
It is not.
It is a sign that something is out of balance.
Depression is common in caregivers. According to CareConnect, a caregiver is two times more likely to be diagnosed with depression than a non-caregiver. And, if you are the caregiver for someone with dementia, the likelihood of depression increases three fold. Caregiving does not cause depression, and not all caregivers feel the raw emotions that are associated with depression. Sometimes we are so wrapped up in our caregiver responsibilities that we don't even realize that we are depressed and numb to the world around us. Everyone has emotional up and downs. But if you have changes in your energy level and sleep patterns, are more restless and irritable, have difficulties concentrating or making decisions, have feelings of worthlessness or guilt or have changes in your appetite, eating habits or weight, remember that these are all classic symptoms of depression.
Some people see depression as a sign of weakness. It is not. It is a sign that something is out of balance. Ignoring these feelings won't make them go away. Early attention and support can make a big difference in how you feel about your caregiving role and how you interact with your loved one.
If you recognize any of the symptoms of depression in yourself take the Mental Health America Depression Screening. It can help you determine if you may need to see a mental health professional for diagnosis and treatment of depression.
Where to Turn to for Help with Depression
UK has resources to assist you:
Work + Life Connections Counseling Program is a voluntary, confidential UK benefit that offers five (5) free sessions with a licensed and certified therapist. UK employees (FTE 0.50 or greater), spouses, partners and UK retirees are eligible. For more information please call (859) 257-8763.
UK Psychiatry Outpatient Clinic offers a full range of clinical services for adults and adolescents. For more information please call (859) 323-6021 if you have UK PPO or other insurance or (859) 218-5862 if you have UK HMO.
Tips to Protect Yourself Against Depression
Remember, it is not selfish to take care of your own needs when you are a caregiver; it's an important part of the job. You are responsible for your own self-care.
Learn to recognize the signs of stress and explore stress reduction techniques, e.g. meditation, prayer, yoga, Tai Chi
Journaling is a way to release emotions. It is unfiltered thought, where you can ‘speak’ your mind without judgment, criticism or condemnation from others.
Seek and accept help from others for both you and the person you are caring for. This includes family, friends, church community, private agencies and government agencies.
Make time for yourself and for your other relationships. Plan activities, set dates and write it down on the calendar. Writing it down will help keep you organized and will give you something to look forward to.
Get enough rest. Sleep is when our body recovers and the lack of sleep can worsen depression.
Exercise regularly. Exercise produces natural endorphins, which help improve our mood. Exercising for even a short amount of time can make a difference.
Eat properly. Exercise and diet go hand in hand.
Educate yourself about your loved one's illness. Having an understanding of their illness can give you a better insight into what they are going through. It can help you cope with what's happening now and prepare you for what is down the road.
Learn about the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
Don't hesitate to seek professional mental health counseling. Caregiving is difficult and full of personal challenges.