Signs and Symptoms of Caregiver Depression
Caring for an aging loved one can be demanding, and COVID-19 has added a whole new level of stress and anxiety for caregivers.
Caregivers worry. They worry about their family’s health, the health of their older loved ones and their own health. They worry about how to keep everyone safe and what the future may hold. All this worry can create fear, hopelessness, anger, resentment and helplessness – and if left unaddressed, can lead to depression.
According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, a caregiver is two times more likely to be diagnosed with depression than the general population. 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 we are depressed and numb to the world around us.
Signs and symptoms of depression
- Becoming easily agitated or frustrated
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Thoughts of death, dying or suicide
- Disturbed sleep
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities
- Difficulty thinking or concentrating
- Changes in appetite and weight
- Physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders and pain
Source: American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
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 yourself, 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.
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.
- Stand up for yourself, especially when you are feeling pressure from your loved one, other family members or the medical community regarding your caregiving role.
- Set limits. Know what you are or are not willing and/or capable of doing and what you have time do to. It can make the difference between feeling in control of the situation or feeling out of control and in despair.
- Learn to recognize the signs of stress and explore stress reduction techniques, e.g. meditation, prayer, yoga or 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 yourself and the person you are caring for. Sources include family, friends, religious community, private agencies and government agencies.
- Make time for yourself and for your other relationships. Plan activities, set dates and write them down on the calendar. Writing things down will help keep you organized and will give you something to look forward to.
- Get enough rest. Sleep helps our body recover, and 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 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). You may be eligible for time off from work to deal with your loved one’s needs.
To be an effective caregiver, you need to protect your own health and well-being while you protect your loved one. Caregivers are so busy caring for others that they often neglect their own self-care. Don't hesitate to seek professional mental health counseling.
Where to turn to for help with depression
UK has resources to assist you:
- The Work + Life Connections Counseling Program is a voluntary, confidential UK program that offers five 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.
- The UK Psychiatry Outpatient Clinic offers a full range of clinical services for adults and adolescents. For more information, please call (859) 323-6021.
Stay well, stay healthy, stay connected,