Family caregivers take on an enormous amount of responsibility, and they often lack the support they need to maintain their own health and wellness while caring for their loved one. Unlike careers outside the home, caretaking is a 24-hour job. You may feel like you never get a break or can never fully detach from your role as a caregiver. Burnout is extremely common among family caregivers, and depression and burnout go hand-in-hand. When you become so physically, mentally, and emotionally drained from your caretaker responsibilities, the symptoms of depression can easily start to set in. Caregiver depression can also result from the pain of watching your loved one battle illness.
If you’re a caretaker for an aging adult, you may spend more time thinking about your loved one than thinking about yourself. However, you still have a responsibility to yourself to care for your own mental and physical health. You deserve to live a happy, meaningful life free from depression, and you can develop the skills needed to improve your mental health.
Here Are Six Tips to Prevent Caregiver Depression
1. Recognize the signs of depression.
Depression can be a sneaky illness. In most individuals, it doesn’t develop overnight. Instead, a few small symptoms may set in and gradually worsen if you don’t address them. The earlier you notice your depression and take steps to improve your mental health, the easier your experience will be. It’s critical that caretakers can recognize the signs of depression so that they can act quickly to protect their mental health before the disorder gets out of control.
The following are some of the most common signs of caretaker depression:
- Feeling exhausted or fatigued much of the time
- Inability to sleep; experiencing nightmares about your loved one and their illness
- Low mood; feelings of hopelessness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Irritability or agitation
- Lack of interest in your own hobbies
- Feeling guilty for taking time off from your caregiver responsibilities
- Thoughts of suicide or suicidal ideation
2. Set realistic expectations for yourself.
Many people with depression experience low self-esteem or self-doubt. This can be especially challenging for family caregivers because you have so many responsibilities to manage. You might judge or criticize yourself for making a mistake or for being unable to complete all of your tasks, but this negative self-talk will only worsen your mental health.
If you tend to set impossibly high standards for yourself, consider whether those expectations are helping or harming you. Expecting yourself to be the sole caretaker for an aging parent while also caring for your own children full-time is unrealistic and will only lead to burnout. Similarly, you can’t expect to know everything about treating a complex medical condition when you’re not a healthcare professional. Everyone has limits, and allowing yourself to define and stick to your limits will help you avoid self-criticism and self-judgment.
3. Seek support from family and friends.
Your family and friends can be an excellent source of both practical and emotional support. If you’re struggling with depression because the weight of all of your caretaker responsibilities is too much, consider whether your other loved ones could help with any of your tasks. While reducing your workload may not be all that you need to combat clinical depression, it can greatly improve your exhaustion and make you more resilient.
Maybe another family member can step in and care for your aging relative a few times per week so you can take a break. Maybe your best friend will help you clean your house when you feel overwhelmed by other tasks. Sometimes, simply talking about your stress or frustrations to a supportive friend can ease the burden. Your loved ones want to help, but it’s your responsibility to let them know what you need.
4. Find respite care.
Professional respite care is one of the most valuable resources for preventing and treating caregiver depression. Caretakers often experience the signs and symptoms of depression when they feel like their responsibilities are constant and inescapable. You need to be able to detach from your work from time to time, and regular respite care allows you to take a break while knowing that your loved one is still being cared for.
You might be able to find respite care through a state organization, a local volunteer group, or an adult day program. If you’re not sure where to look, contact your state’s department on aging or elderly services.
5. Listen to your body.
Although depression is a mental health condition, it can also manifest with physical symptoms. Sometimes, your physical health can provide key insights into your mental health. Listening to your body and recognizing the signs of stress and fatigue can help you prevent or reduce depression.
Exhaustion is one of the most common signs of caretaker depression. When you suffer from depression, you may feel so drained of energy that even the smallest tasks feel challenging. Extreme fatigue is a sign that you need to slow down and take a break. Muscle tension, nausea, and a racing heartbeat are all physical signs of stress indicating that your body is struggling to keep up with you. If you’re feeling physically unwell or uncomfortable, it’s important to respect your health and seek support.
6. Talk to a therapist.
You may be able to prevent or lessen your depression through lifestyle changes or family support, but therapy is the best way to treat clinical depression. If your quality of life is suffering because of caregiver depression, it’s time to reach out for professional support.
Therapy is immensely helpful for caregivers with depression and caregivers at risk of depression. You spend so much of your day worrying about other people, but therapy is your opportunity to check in with yourself. You and your counselor can explore the underlying causes of your depression and put supports in place to make your caretaking responsibilities feel more manageable and sustainable.
Blue Moon Senior Counseling provides counseling for seniors struggling with depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns. Our therapists specialize in older adult mental health and understand the unique challenges affecting seniors and their caregivers. Contact us today to learn more about counseling for seniors.