Robin Williams’ suicide once more highlighted the difficult challenges people face in their efforts to manage and overcome severe depression. For Williams, the combination of depression and other health battles led to a tragic conclusion. For family caregivers, the long-term impact of depression is another one of today’s most ignored issues.
We’re seeing significant growth in the number of family caregivers in response to an aging population that is living longer and with more chronic illnesses than ever before. A conservative estimate reports that 20 percent of family caregivers suffer from depression, twice the rate of the general population. And even after caregiving ends, caregivers may still be susceptible.
A recent study found that 41 percent of former caregivers of a spouse with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia experienced mild to severe depression up to three years after their spouse had died. In general, women caregivers experience depression at a higher rate than men.
Caregiving doesn’t cause depression and not everyone who provides care will experience the negative feelings that go along with it. But in an effort to provide the best possible care for a family member or friend, caregivers often sacrifice their own physical and emotional needs. The intensity of the caregiving experience can drain even the most capable and well-meaning person.
Feelings of anger, anxiety, sadness, isolation and exhaustion – coupled with guilt for having these feelings – can exact a heavy toll. Too often, we believe that we “should” be able to handle whatever is expected in a family caregiving situation. However, ignoring or denying feelings will not make them go away.
Respite care relief, positive feedback from others and positive self-talk are helpful in avoiding depression. Connect with caregiver support groups in the community or online to help you learn effective problem-solving and coping strategies. Participate in activities that may make you feel better, such as mild exercise, going to a movie or ballgame, or attending a community event.
Set realistic goals and assume only a reasonable amount of responsibility. Break large tasks into small ones, set some priorities, and do what you can as you can. Most importantly, let your family and friends help you. For your health and the health of those around you, take some time to care for yourself.
ARE YOU DEPRESSED?
People experience depression in different ways. The type and degree of symptoms vary by individual and can change over time. The National Institute of Mental Health lists the following symptoms which, if experienced for more than two consecutive weeks, may ind
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.
Early attention to symptoms may help prevent the development of a more serious depression over time. A mental health professional can assess your condition and arrive at the treatment most appropriate for you.