September 24, 2015

Keeping Yourself Well: Caregiving and Depression

By Pamela Spahr, Contributing Writer | The Caregiver Depression and Caregivers

I’ve been wondering lately if I have sunk into a depression. Between my husband Bob entering hospice and being sick with a cold myself, I have been lethargic and miserable for the past three weeks. The racking cough, the mild fever and the runny nose are all symptoms I’ve experienced three times in the past few months.

These colds brought the blues along with them. Normally, I am a fairly upbeat person, but being ill brought to mind the idea of depression and caregiving. I wasn’t sure what the characteristics of depression were, and I especially didn’t know what it feels like for caregivers. I did some online investigating.

The caregiver’s dilemma: When is there time to care for yourself?

According to my research, being a caregiver doesn’t cause depression. However, those of us who are caregivers know that in an effort to meet our loved ones’ needs, we often sacrifice our physical and mental well-being.

Caregivers do not get enough sleep. We don’t get time away from the loved ones to heal or de-stress. We rarely take the time to develop a hobby. Instead, caregivers are constantly helping loved ones and thinking of their needs.

The amount of responsibility we take on can cause sadness, exhaustion, and isolation — along with guilt for feeling that way. In some cases of early onset dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, the daily demands on a caregiver may not be too heavy. But as either disease progresses, the demands get more constant and omnipresent.

Caregivers are vulnerable to isolation, anxiety and sadness, especially in the long term

I find myself wondering how long my role as my husband’s caregiver will last. I know it sounds selfish, but I have been doing this for three years; I cannot image how heavy a burden caregiving is for people who expect to do this for 10 or 15 years. Or those who are already long-term caregivers.

Like many people, I was dumped into my caregiver role unexpectedly when my husband had a series of strokes. According to the Caregivers Action Network, in a national survey of caregivers, half of the respondents reported symptoms of prolonged depression.

Taking a quiz on symptoms of depression

At Feeling Kinda Blue, a social network for people dealing with mood disorders, I found a short quiz on depression. Users rate their symptoms on a scale from “all of the time” to “none of the time.” The depression inventory includes:

  • Feelings of sadness or low spirits
  • Loss of interest in daily activities
  • A lack of energy or strength
  • Low confidence
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling that life isn’t worth living

Everyone feels bad once in a while, but if a caregiver meets most of the criteria on the quiz most of the time, then it is time to meet with a professional. Feeling Kinda Blue offers their members a helpline and says that anyone experiencing a mental health crisis should call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.

Mental health professionals are just another member of a caregiver’s support system

Many people still feel ashamed or embarrassed about seeking help for emotional issues. I happen to believe that a mental health professional is just another member of the caregiver village that keeps us on track and doing our best during this most important time.

After taking the quiz, I realized I’d experienced aspects of depression over the past weeks. However, I am finding that as the cold recedes, so do the blues.

Pamela Spahr, the founder of Inspired Caregivers and the author of the eBook, “Caregivers Survival Toolkit,” is an expert in behavioral and emotional techniques designed specifically for caregivers to those with cognitive impairment. She coaches caregivers and teaches her techniques to family and professional caregivers around the United States.

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