Feelings of depression can sometimes be seen as a sign of weakness rather than a sign that something is out of balance. Comments such as “snap out of it” or “it’s all in your head” are not helpful, and reflect a belief that mental health concerns are not real. Ignoring or denying your feelings will not make them go away.
Early attention to symptoms of depression through exercise, a healthy diet, positive support of family and friends, or consultation with a trained health or mental health professional may help to prevent the development of a more serious depression over time.
People assume that once caregiving is over, the stress of providing hands-on care will go away. Yet, researchers found that even three years after the death of a spouse with dementia, some former caregivers continued to experience depression and loneliness. In an effort to return their life to normal, former caregivers may need to seek out help for depression as well.
Symptoms of Caregiver Depression
People experience depression in different ways. Some may feel a general low-level sadness for months, while others experience a more sudden and intense negative change in their outlook, sleep, memory, and other changes. The type and degree of symptoms vary by individual and can change over time. Consider these common symptoms of depression. If you have experienced any of the following for longer than two weeks, it may indicate depression.
- A change in eating habits resulting in unwanted weight gain or loss
- A change in sleep patterns—too much sleep or not enough
- Feeling tired all the time
- A loss of interest in people and/or activities that once brought you pleasure
- Becoming easily agitated or angered
- Feeling that nothing you do is good enough
- Thoughts of death or suicide, or attempting suicide
- Ongoing physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain.
What to Do If You Think You Have Depression
Depression deserves to be treated with the same attention afforded to any other illness, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. If you feel uncomfortable using the term depression, tell the professional that you are “feeling blue” or “feeling down.” The professional will get the message. The important thing is to seek help.
Those with chronic illnesses also may suffer from depression. If you suspect this is the case with your loved one, look for an opportunity to share your concern with him or her. If they are reluctant to talk about it with you, encourage a trusted friend to talk with them or consider leaving a message for their doctor regarding your concern prior to their next appointment.
We hope this information is helpful to you in the important work you do as a family caregiver.
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