Caregiving is not for the fainthearted. Becoming a caregiver means enduring an ongoing series of life transitions. These life transitions lead to stress, because change can sometimes be difficult. While sadness, anger and feelings of loss are absolutely normal, there is a fine line between being stressed, and becoming depressed.
It’s not surprising that caregiving is associated with high levels of depression. The Family Caregiver Alliance quips, “What do lack of sleep, dementia and stress have in common? Answer: They all contribute to increased risk of depression.”
Caregiving is correlated with feelings of: yearning for the past; regret and guilt; isolation; restricted freedoms; life stressors; and systemic health issues. However, it’s the level of grief that is the emotion to monitor.
Complicated grief and a depression begin to occur if we become “stuck in the yuck.” It’s that whirlwind feeling when our mind becomes entrapped in the painful emotional turmoil associated with the transition and/or loss. It’s the days when we can’t get out of bed, or have trouble resuming normal life and activities. Web MD has an extensive list of symptoms to determine if you are stressed, or could possibly be depressed. The Mayo Clinic also provides a list of symptoms. If you do have these symptoms, visit your doctor. Get help.
Speaking of getting help – it’s important not be afraid to ask for help, or to explore different options for alleviating sadness. Depression is often left untreated in caregivers. Sometimes because being labeled as "depressed" may be perceived as admitting weakness, or instability. All to often, though, depression in caregivers is left untreated because its symptoms are misconstrued as the “normal aging” process.
The National Institute for Mental Health states that 14.8 million American adults currently are diagnosed with major depressive disorder. They also state that depression is not a normal sign of aging.
Being aware of your own feelings, health, and level of functioning is of the utmost importance.
Just as you need to put your own mask on in an emergency before a child’s mask so you do not suffocate, you must take care of yourself as a caregiver. If you are feeling depressed, find help and do not ignore the symptoms. After all – you’re stronger then you think!
This post was written by Cynthia Koch, the Community Engagement Associate at the Glenner Centers.