One of the most common health issues affecting caregivers is depression. Let’s take a look at some of the ways that caregiving can lead to this condition:
We feel like we're letting everyone down, especially if we have children as well as elders to care for, and perhaps a spouse we don’t want to ignore. We try. We try so hard. Yet, it seems like we are spread so thin that, in our view at least, our loved ones all get shortchanged. This can, indeed, be depressing.
Another issue is that we can't personally fix what is wrong with our loved one. We watch as our spouse goes through cancer treatments that may or may not work. We witness our beloved parent disappear into dementia. We ache as our child struggles with severe asthma. We can help. We can provide personal care. We can provide transportation to medical appointments. We can monitor medications. Most of all, we can comfort. But we can’t fix the illness or disability. I can personally tell you how depressing these situations can be.
We don’t have the time and/or freedom to help out a friend who needs us because we have nothing left to give after our family has eaten up our physical and emotional energy. No one’s fault, this, but it’s very depressing.
We become isolated. Caregiving demands can become so heavy that the idea of taking the time to meet a friend for a cup of coffee is too overwhelming so we turn down all invitations. Repeatedly. Eventually, our friends give up. Yes, this, too, is depressing.
You may feel as if you’ve lost your identity other than that of a caregiver. Were you someone else in the past? A painter? A yoga instructor? A CEO? Did you run marathons and organize groups of women friends for evenings out? Life as it was before long-term caregiving can become a distant memory. Even thinking about what we have – often willingly – given up can be depressing.
Then there is this: What happens when caregiving ends? Once our care receiver gets well, if that is going to happen, or dies, if the disease is terminal, we can feel lost. Caregiving has taken up our time, our emotions, and our mental energy. Suddenly we feel that we are no longer needed. Maybe even no longer useful. We feel this incredible void and often don’t know how to start putting our lives back together. Sometimes that leads to not being able to accept the change in our loved one’s status and accept a death. We can become deeply depressed.
When to seek support
Caregiver self-care is vital to get through these times. Remembering this truth can help prevent caregiver burnout, which can often lead to depression. If caregivers find that depression is becoming more than an occasional, vague feeling, it’s time to talk with their doctor. Clinical depression, which may respond to medication, is a possibility.
Talk therapy with a counselor who understands caregiving is often a good idea for caregivers who are experiencing recurring depressive thoughts.
Support groups that can help
Support groups, whether online or in person, are nearly essential for most long-term caregivers. This type of peer support may help with mild depression because there is truth in the old adage that sharing lightens the load. The advantage of online groups is that you can join in at any time, day or night, so there is little excuse to not at least try one or more.
There are many options available. Two trustworthy general groups are the Caregivers Action Network (CAN) and The Family Caregiver Alliance. The Well Spouse Association is, quite obviously, meant to support the well spouse in a couple. Disease-specific websites can often suggest local groups and many of them offer online support. So reach out whether or not depression is an issue. Doing so may just keep potential those dark thoughts in their place.