Taking care of someone with depression isn’t easy. Learn some depression caregiving tips and how to care for yourself as a depression caregiver.
Caring for a friend or family member who has depression can be challenging. Not only is it hard to watch a loved one suffer
And, depression caregiving can cause you to feel anxious, frustrated, angry, exhausted, or even a little depressed yourself.
Thankfully, the more you learn about depression, specifically the symptoms of depression, the more helpful you can become. Knowing more will help you understand what is happening with your loved one, and how you can respond.
But, there is such a thing as too much information at once too. So, to help you remember the most important tips in this article, I have a free printable available at the end of this article! It’s a very simple but powerful tool to help you take action today!
This article provides guidance on how to care for yourself as a depression caregiver.
Self-care can include everything from what your are eating, how much activity you perform, how you relieve stress, how much rest you allow yourself to have, how you tend to your spiritual needs, what messages you say to yourself, what supplements you take, to all of the herbal or natural remedies you do to take care of yourself.
Consider these strategies when taking care of people with depression.
Start With the ‘Patient’
The cardinal sign of a major depressive episode is a period of at least two weeks marked by either depressed mood or loss of pleasure or interest in nearly all activities. Other symptoms may also include:
- Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, tearfulness or emptiness
- Insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping all of the time)
- Angry outbursts, frustration and irritability – perhaps over small matters
- Loss of interest in normal activities of daily living (interests, hobbies, sports, sexual activity)
- Not moving very much at all
- Change in appetite (and then significant weight loss or gain)
- Extreme fatigue or lack of energy (daily) (so self-care and other tasks take a long time to complete)
- Difficulty thinking, focusing, concentrating or making decisions every day
- Unexplained physical problems like headaches or back pain
- Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent thoughts of suicide, or a suicide attempt or suicide plan
- Eventually symptoms lead to impaired social and occupational function
A MUST DO
Depression is a true mental health illness and requires treatment. Treatment typically consists of medications, therapy, or a combination of both, which is only provided by healthcare professionals.
Therefore, do not try to ‘fix’ your loved one’s depression symptoms. And, do not try to care for them completely alone. It is not healthy for you to allow your loved-on to keep their depression a secret and you provide care alone. Pull together a small group of friends or family to pitch in with various tasks. This will take some of the pressure off of you as the primary caregiver.
People with depression may not notice they are struggling. This lack of awareness can cause people to consider their feelings normal. Depression seldom gets better without treatment and can get worse over time. And, there is still a stigma of seeking treatment for mental illness, which can cause people to refuse to go to treatment.
As a result of these conditions, you as the caregiver should be aware of the typical depression symptoms, and the symptoms your loved-one has experienced. Then, if your loved one’s symptoms change or worsen you
Sometimes getting your loved-one to accept they need treatment for depression is the biggest hurdle. This can be a very difficult conversation to start.
Talking points to help you start the conversation include:
- Explain to your loved one that they have symptoms of depression and how it can impact a person’s life
- Share why you are concerned
bytalking about the symptoms (or change of symptoms) you’ve observed
- Suggest a wellness visit or physical with a healthcare provider who can rule out other medical issues that may be causing the symptoms
- Offer to drive your loved one to the appointment
- Assist your loved one to prepare for the appointment (list of symptoms, questions, description of problems)
Be Helpful and Provide Support
After you have determined your loved one has depression and needs help, you can offer your assistance. But the experience of being depressed makes it hard to answer questions, so don’t bombard them with a bunch of questions at once. Prioritize a couple a day. But most importantly, be direct when asking the person with depression what they need from you.
You don’t want to make leading statements, but you may need to guide the conversation.
- Do you need help picking out your clothes?
- Would you like help choosing what to have for lunch?
- Do you want me to mow the lawn or do you want to do it yourself?
- Can I drive you to your appointments?
- Do you need help grocery shopping?
- Would you like to go to see a movie (or whatever they like to do)?
Listen with Compassion
You cannot fix your loved one’s illness. In contrast, you can be present and listen to your loved one talk. Most of the time helping your loved one feel heard or understood can help them feel better. Sometimes just allowing them to validate their emotions can be helpful.
For the reason that it can be difficult to know what to say or not to say, I have provided a few phrases to avoid, and phrases to use in conversations with your loved one.
Phrases to avoid:
- Focus on the wonderful things in your life!
- Snap out of it!
- We all feel this way sometimes.
- You’re just in a rough phase. You’ll get past it.
- Why can’t you look at the positives?
- If you keep focusing on it, you’re going to feel worse!
- Geez, how long are you going to be like this?
Phrases to use:
- I am here for you [name]
- You are not going through this alone
- Although I may not understand exactly the way you feel, I do want to help you
- Tell me how I can help you
- This must be very difficult for you
Furthermore, to help validate how your loved-one feels when they talk, you can parrot their comments. For example, if your loved one says, “I am so tired today.” You can validate that you’ve heard and understood them by saying, “You feel tired today?”
Of course you will want to pepper the parroting technique into the conversation or it will be noticeable and potentially irritating to your loved one. And, likewise, you want to insert the above phrases occasionally as appropriate.
Set Boundaries to Care for Yourself as a Depression Caregiver
Another thing you must do to care for yourself as a depression caregiver is set boundaries. The boundaries or limits will vary depending on the behavior of your loved-one.
Setting boundaries is talking about the behaviors that are not acceptable to you.
Above all else, stick to the treatment plan. You cannot take on trying to ‘fix’ someone’s depression by yourself. Using the talking points that I listed above, encourage your loved one to seek treatment.
Furthermore, being a caregiver to someone with depression does not mean you must accept abuse. If the person you care for uses abusive language towards you, tell them the language is unacceptable and they need to stop.
If you are experiencing any kind of physical abuse, insist they stop. Reach out to family, a friend, or local law enforcement if you fear physical harm. Consider distancing yourself from the person if you do not live with the person you are caring for until they get the help they need.
Other boundaries include how you can help them. You can provide suggestions to help them cope, including getting physical exercise and eating a healthy diet. But, you can’t make them cope better, exercise or eat the healthy food.
As you continue to care for your loved one and begin to learn more about their symptoms, you may find specific responses work better to redirect the conversations. For example, if your loved one doesn’t respond well to redirection or distraction, you may find parroting is a best first response in your conversations.
Encourage They Do Things for Themselves As Able
Another important boundary is to continue encouraging your loved one to do things for themselves as they are able. At first you may need to help them get into the shower. But as they start to feel better, you should expect to do less for them (and more help with set up, clean up or reminders). This is helpful to the healing process because it feels good to do things for yourself.
Additionally, you can encourage your loved one to participate in their usual spiritual practice, if appropriate. Many people find faith to be an important part in the recovery from depression. It may be involvement in an organized religious community or they may have their own personal spiritual beliefs. Provide support as needed to allow your loved one to participate at the level they desire and need throughout the recovery process.
Crisis Plan and Intervention
People with depression are at an increased risk of suicide. If your loved one is seeing a healthcare provider, a crisis plan can be put in place. A crisis plan is an emergency plan of action to take if your loved one becomes suicidal. Depending on the services in your area, you may be encouraged to call 911, the local mental health center or hospital. Or you may be instructed to take them directly to a specific place. Keep these instructions in a visible place so you can refer to it and intervene during the emergency.
In the United States the toll-free, 24-hour hot line of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.
Care for Yourself as a Depression Caregiver
Above all, you need to take care of yourself when you provide care to a person with depression.
Caregiving is an incredibly stressful job. It can be frustrating. But it can also be heartbreaking. And, it can put you in a position where you are a target of abuse.
Hence the need for solid self-care. It is difficult to predict how long it will take for your loved one to recover. But one thing is for sure.
The better you care for yourself as a depression caregiver, the better caregiver you will be to your loved one.
And, when you take good care of yourself, you will have more confidence to implement the appropriate depression caregiving strategies that help your loved one.
There are the obvious self-care tips we all know about and know we should do. Eat healthy (real) food, move around and get some exercise, talk about frustrations with friends, get enough sleep.
But, there are additional things you can do to care for yourself as a depression caregiver.
Spend time away from the person you are caring for. Being away doesn’t mean you love them less. It is something caregivers need to do on a regular basis to prevent burnout.
Giving yourself a break is actually a way to show the people you are caring for how much you love them because you are keeping yourself strong and well.
Go out with friends for dinner, meet someone at the gym, or enjoy time alone doing a favorite hobby. Perhaps you would enjoy going to the library and walking around. Go window shopping. Maybe even take a Sunday drive and look at the clouds. Or walk around in nature.
Start meditating. Meditation has been shown in research to reduce anxiety and stress. If you are a person of faith, engaging in prayer is a form of meditation. And, worship and regular church attendance have also been found as a way to reduce anxiety and manage stress.
If your faith is important to you, I want to encourage you to utilize the truth of God, shared in the Bible. You can use scripture to help you find the courage to start taking better care of yourself, and the motivation to continue good self-care.
You can offer your self-care as a living sacrifice!
It is likely you are not just providing care to the person with depression. You take care of others too. Whether you care for your children, support your spouse, care for aging parents, serve in a ministry, or maybe even all of the above, it takes motivation to make your self-care a priority when you are caring for others. So consider taking care of yourself as a way to worship and honor the Lord. Interesting in learning more about this? You can find more information here.
Finally, in closing, take the time to identify your personal needs so you can give yourself the best care possible.
As a reminder, here is a list of how to care for yourself as a depression caregiver.
- Start with the patient – learn the symptoms of depression
- Encourage treatment
- Be helpful and provide support
- Listen with compassion
- Set boundaries
- Encourage they do things for themselves as able
- Know the crisis plan
- Care for yourself with appropriate self-care