Caregiving is a difficult role. It can often lead to feelings of frustration, hopelessness, and guilt. These feelings and others may lead caregivers to experience depression. It is important for caregivers and their loved ones to be aware of the symptoms of depression. If you suspect that someone you know is experiencing depression, please take action as it is treatable.
What is depression?
Depression is an illness that is serious yet treatable. Depression impacts the way a person feels, thinks, and acts. Anyone – regardless of race, age, sex, economic situation, or social status – can experience depression. Symptoms of depression may seem uncontrollable and overwhelming. Caregivers and those around them frequently miss the symptoms of depression.
Symptoms of depression include:
- Feeling sad or “down”
- Losing interest in hobbies and activities
- Feelings of worthlessness
- An increase or decrease in appetite
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Loss of energy
- Difficulty thinking or concentrating
- Feeling numb
- Thoughts of suicide
It is normal to have negative feelings or some of the symptoms above that come and go over a short period of time. However, when these symptoms last two weeks or more at any time, it may be depression. Major life changes such as caring for a loved one with dementia and overwhelming stress may place someone at an increased risk for developing depression. A person does not have to experience every symptom in order to have depression. By understanding and recognizing signs of depression, you can assist your loved one.
What are the numbers?
Depression is one of the most common mental health issues in the United States. In 2015, 16.1 million American adults, or 6.7% of the U.S. adult population, had experienced at least one major depressive episode in the past year. Serving as a caregiver of someone with dementia can be quite difficult. More than half of caregivers (60%) rate their emotional stress related to caregiving as either high or very high. Research indicates that more than half of caregivers (59%) develop depression and/or an anxiety disorder within two years of a loved one receiving a diagnosis of dementia. Indeed, many caregivers sacrifice their own mental and physical health in order to take care of their loved one with dementia. If your loved one is experiencing depression, know that you are not alone.
What should I do if I suspect depression?
If you think someone you know is experiencing depression, please take it seriously and start a conversation with your loved one. It can change his or her life. You may begin the conversation in a quiet and private place to ask the caregiver if s/he is okay. Be ready to listen. Caregivers might not want to be a burden to others and, therefore, may downplay their symptoms to you. Provide reassurance to caregivers and remind them that you are here.
Next, seek help from a medical professional such as a physician, psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist. Treatment for depression varies depending on the person and the symptoms. Professionals can work with your loved one to develop the best depression treatment plan based on the person’s symptoms.
What are the treatments for depression?
There are several different treatments that can help your loved one who is suffering from depression. Treatment or a combination of treatments can help your loved one to feel at his or her best.
For example, talk therapy is a treatment option that typically focuses on current issues in a person’s life and provides new ways to think about and approach challenges.
Medication is another form of treatment. Medications can alleviate symptoms of depression. With several classes of medications, a medical professional can help someone decide the type of medication that is best for him or her based on symptoms and lifestyle.
Overall, providing care for someone with dementia is an important job; however, it can be a source of stress. Caregivers are at an increased risk for developing and experiencing depression. The first step is being able to recognize the signs of depression, then being able to enact next steps. You will be on the road to ensuring that your loved one is on the path to being physically and emotionally healthy.
Keywords: Caregiving, Depression
Jennifer Pearson, PA-S