A Different Kind of Depression

Who are the Caregiver’s of the world? According to the definition, a caregiver is a ‘family member or helper who regularly looks after a child or sick, elderly, or disabled person.’ That definition seems simple enough, right? When you become a caregiver it is anything but simple.

Only if you have been a caregiver do you understand that it is life-altering. Any and all time and energy you have goes into the care of another human being. That may sound dramatic, but if it does… you have never been a caregiver. It may sound overwhelming, but this is why more than 50% of caregivers are living with signs of clinical depression.

What are the signs of clinical depression? (some signs may be)

  • Feelings of sadness or emptiness
  • Loss of Interests in typical activities
  • Tiredness/lack of energy
  • Anxiety, agitation, restlessness
  • Angry outbursts, irritability
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Trouble thinking/remembering things
  • Reduced appetite/weight loss or increased cravings/weight gain

A combination of symptoms must be present for at least 2 weeks continually for clinical depression to be considered by a physician

Many people don’t understand the real nature of caregiver’s depression. Most caregivers are family members, people who are providing care for a loved one out of necessity. That loved one is ill or living with a disability, has challenges or special needs. The caregiver learns to structure his or her day around the person they are caring for. Life becomes about routine, someone else’s routine. A caregiver can be doing this out of love, but it is easy to lose yourself in that love. It is also easy, after a while, to lose track of the love, among the routine, and exhaustion, and monotony of a life that is not yours. After all, you are living a life for someone else, not for yourself. You can begin to feel invisible and have a level of inexplicable guilt for wanting some time to yourself.

What caregivers need most is self-care, but many don’t or are unable to make the time for self-care. They are balancing their loved one’s medical appointments, meal planning, therapy, sometimes both mental health and physical health. For younger children, school advocacy can be a full time job in itself. Managing finances for yourself and a family member with challenges adds its own special kind of stress.

It is imperative that caregivers reduce their stress intake. Not only is their rate of depression extremely high, so is their rate of physical stress. Currently, 66% of caregivers are women with an average age of 49 years old.  Right now, the number one cause of death in this demographic is heart disease. We must be cautious. If we don’t care for ourselves, who will care for our loved ones?

To the caregivers, you are not alone.  During this time of Covid-19, you may feel more alone and isolated than ever, but there is the potential of the opposite happening. The pandemic has changed the world of online support, there are many ways to reach out virtually to find assistance. You can seek self-care without leaving your loved one. There are so many caregivers who feel like acknowledging the struggle is not an option when we are the one who is supposed to be in control. That is a common feeling. You can’t address it without assistance. It is okay to get help for yourself. You can’t take care of your loved one unless you are healthy, too. Organizations like Mental Health America and United Way can help you access resources.

My call out to the Lancaster Community is this: If you know someone who is a caregiver, let them know they are doing a great job. Put a note in their mail box. Drop off dinner. Do something kind. Help them in any way you can. Let them know they are seen.

Being a caregiver is one of the hardest jobs there is, but it is done out of love. With help and support of those around us, we can care for ourselves, too.

Caryn Thompson, CPS-P

Caryn Thompson is a mental health advocate and ally. She was trained in the state of Georgia as a Certified Peer Specialist- Parent and a Certified Peer Specialist – Mental Health. Prior to moving to PA in 2020, Ms. Thompson worked closely with the GA Parent Support Network, NAMI GA (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and MHA of Georgia educating communities and teachers throughout the state about mental health. Locally, she has been working with MHA of Lancaster County as their marketing coordinator and Community Mental Health Assistance Program Coordinator (CMAP). 

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