Everyone knows the risks associated with smoking, living dangerously, and overeating. We’re aware of what happens to our bodies if we don’t exercise or use harmful drugs. Unfortunately, most of us are ignorant when it comes to how caregiving affects our health.
A conservative estimate reports that nearly 20 percent of family caregivers suffer from depression, while some experts claim the rate is much higher. According to California’s Caregiver Resource Centers, 60 percent show clinical signs of depression.
Why such a risk for depression? And how does it affect family caregivers?
Caregiving and Depression
Caregiving does not cause depression, and not every caregiver will experience the same emotions. But the fact is most caregivers often sacrifice their own personal health and emotional needs in order to provide care for their loved one. The strain of caregiving affects even the most capable of individuals, and exacts a heavy toll on their health and happiness.
Although everyone experiences feelings of depression differently, common symptoms often include:
- Overeating or not eating enough
- A loss of interest in favorite pastimes
- Change in sleep patterns
- Becoming easily agitated or angry
- Feelings of sadness, worthlessness, or hopelessness
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Unexplained headaches or digestive disorders
Unfortunately many individuals are under the impression that depression is a sign of weakness. This could not be further from the truth. Just like cancer or diabetes, depression is an illness. The symptoms you experience are simply your body’s way of telling you a change is needed.
Preventing Caregiving Depression
The best way to avoid caregiver depression is to watch for early signs that you are becoming depressed. You’ll also want to take active steps to prevent depression, such as:
- Reaching out for help. Don’t let your responsibilities overwhelm you. Seek out respite care or ask another family member to pitch in.
- Taking time for yourself. Rather than cramming all your commitments into your spare time, set aside an hour or so that’s strictly for yourself. Read a book, take a hot bath, or go for a walk.
- Joining a support group. Being with others who understand your struggles is incredibly comforting.
Treating Caregiver Depression
A National Mental Health Association survey found that many women do not seek treatment for depression. 41 percent admitted refusing to get medical help because of embarrassment or shame.
Unfortunately, these sentiments are all too common. While women may internalize their emotions (which will eventually lead to burnout), men deal with depression differently. Men generally “self-treat” their depression by overworking or turning to alcohol. Such self-destructive behaviors can quickly spiral out of control.
Taking care of your mental health is not only vital to your personal happiness, it will make you a better caregiver. Giving into feelings of frustration, anger, or powerlessness may eventually lead to dangerous consequences for yourself and your loved ones. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of depression, seek treatment now. Ignoring your emotions won’t make them go away. On the other hand, getting necessary help will have you feeling like yourself once again.