News: Self-Care for the Depression Caregiver

From Everyday
By Linda Parent
Medically reviewed by Christine Wilmsen Craig, MD

With the risk of depression among seniors so very high, these helpful tips are great for those caring for a loved one

Living with someone suffering from depression can be stressful, and the demands of caring for a person with depression can be overwhelming. For Lucy, a Montreal mother whose daughter suffered from depression at an early age, some moments were particularly difficult: “I used to sit in my bath and cry when I was too overwhelmed,” she says. The best way to meet these challenges, and be able to give the best care possible, is to take care of yourself and do everything you can to stay healthy and strong.

Understanding Depression Makes Caregiving Easier
Understanding these facts about depression may help both you and the person you care for.

* Someone with depression may sometimes appear hostile, irritable, or like they are rejecting you. Don’t take it personally; try to understand that it’s part of the illness.
* Depression involves biological, psychological, and interpersonal components and is not a sign of weakness or personal failure.
* Try to adopt a tone that makes the depressed person feel in control. For example, ask if they are interested in an activity instead of suggesting the activity.
* Encourage the person to respect scheduled appointments with professionals; do not accept responsibility or blame for missed appointments.
* The state of the person living with depression should improve within a few months once treatment begins. Remember that depression treatment is normally effective; stay optimistic.
* Encourage the person you are taking care of to participate in activities or outings, but don’t insist.
* Notice and praise them when they improve at certain tasks.
* You can only do so much; be realistic about your capabilities.
* Trust your judgment; choose the tasks you can confidently do, and do not feel guilty about the ones you can’t or won’t.

Care for the Caregiver
Here are ways to give yourself a little TLC and stay physically and emotionally fit:

* Remain active outside of your caregiving role; make time for activities you enjoy.
* Accept support from family and friends.
* Maintain a list of respite providers; learn about other services or support groups that may be able to assist you.
* Share your feelings and accept that you can feel angry, sad, or frustrated; don’t be hard on yourself for being human.
* Make sure you have plenty of rest; find time to relax — force yourself if you have to.
* Eat well so that you have sufficient energy and are able to remain alert.
* Learn how to reduce stress through activities like meditation, yoga or tai chi.
* Think positive and make the most of good moments.

Get Outside Help If You Need It
If you are caring for someone in your own family, support groups or family therapy may help you or other family members deal with the situation. Says Basheer Lotfi-Fard, MD, child and adolescent psychiatry fellow at the McGaw Medical Center of Northwestern University and Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, “Every community is going to be different, but the National Alliance on Mental Illness has local chapters throughout the country and a lot of free classes, as well as very good information on their Web pages about different conditions and treatment for mental health.”

How to Recognize Depression in Yourself
Eventually, as a caregiver, you may suffer from such stress or negativity that you may feel extreme sadness and be emotionally overwhelmed. If these feelings last for more than a few days, consult your doctor. Be alert to the symptoms of depression, which include changes in appetite or sleep patterns, tiredness or lack of energy, loss of interest in friends or activities you normally enjoy, and feeling unusually angry or irritable.
Remember that support is important and that taking care of yourself through exercise, healthy eating, and plenty of rest should help you while you are living with and caring for someone suffering from depression.

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