Caregiver depression can take a toll on you and your ability to care for your loved one. Understand the signs of caregiver depression — and how to prevent it.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Caregiving can be physically and emotionally stressful. To provide the best care possible, you might put your loved one's needs before your own. In turn, you could develop feelings of sadness, anger and loneliness, as well as guilt. Sometimes, these emotions trigger caregiver depression.

Everyone has a bad day sometimes. However, depression is more than just a bout of the blues. It is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. During an episode of depression, symptoms occur most of the day, nearly every day and might include:

  • Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
  • Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Tiredness and a lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
  • Changes in appetite — often reduced appetite and weight loss, but increased cravings for food and weight gain in some people
  • Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or blaming yourself for things that aren't your responsibility
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
  • Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches

If you're experiencing signs or symptoms of caregiver depression, consult your doctor or a mental health provider. Depression isn't a weakness and you can't simply "snap out" of it. It can also affect the quality of care you're able to provide for your loved one. However, most people who have depression feel better with the help of medication, psychological counseling or other treatment.

You can take steps to prevent caregiver depression. For example:

  • Reach out for help. Don't wait until you feel overwhelmed to ask for help caring for a loved one. If possible, get your whole family and close friends involved in planning and providing care. Seek out respite services and a caregiver support group. A support network can keep you from feeling isolated, depleted and depressed.
  • Keep up other relationships. Caregiving can take time away from replenishing personal relationships — but showing loved ones and friends you care about them can give you strength and hope.
  • Start a journal. Journaling can improve your mood by allowing you to express pain, anger, fear or other emotions.
  • Take time for yourself. Participate in activities that allow you to relax and have fun. Go to a movie, watch a ballgame, or attend a birthday party or religious gathering. Regular physical activity and meditation also can help reduce stress. Aim to get plenty of sleep and eat a healthy diet.
  • Stay positive. Caregiving allows you to give something back and make a difference in your loved one's life. Caregiving might also have spiritual meaning for you. Focus on these positive aspects of caregiving to help prevent depression.

Remember, if you think you're depressed, seek help. Proper treatment can help you feel your best.

July 22, 2016