Every day, family caregivers face a set of gruelling expectations. Family caregivers are expected to display stamina, composure, tolerance, strength, and support.

The fact that many of these expectations are self-imposed does not reduce the pressure that many of these caregivers feel on a regular basis. For some family caregivers, this pressure combines with stress and personal challenges to produce depression. Below is a look at the prevalence of depression among family caregivers and 6 strategies to help prevent depression from developing.

1) Understand the symptoms.

Symptoms of depression can be more difficult to recognise in people who care for family members because they often mirror symptoms of caregiver burnout. According to results of the Stress and Wellbeing in Australia Survey 2013, caregivers were more likely than non-caregivers to report depressive symptoms. Below are some symptoms of depression and burnout to look for in caregivers:

  • Irregular sleep patterns
  • Decreased interest in activities that are usually enjoyable
  • Thoughts of self-harm or thoughts of harming others
  • A decrease or increase in appetite
  • Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
  • Irritability

2) Know your limitations.

People who care for beloved family members often try to do too much. They assume too many responsibilities and are often reluctant to accept help from others. Here are some tips to help you establish some limits and stick to them:

  • Make a list of the things that you can do as a caregiver without enduring stress
  • When you begin to exceed the items on your list, seek assistance
  • Divide caregiver responsibilities with a sibling or another family member
  • Consider hiring a home health aide

3) Communicate with the family members you are helping.

As a family caregiver, you should openly talk with your loved ones about your role and the evolution of your relationship. As a loved one’s condition progresses, this open communication can help make it easier for you to openly acknowledge that you are unable to take on an increasing level of responsibility.

4) Make sure to take care of yourself.

You will not be able to fulfill your role as a caregiver if you are overwhelmed by stress, fatigue, or depression. Here are some simple steps to follow to help prevent depression or burnout from setting in:

  • Establish a schedule and do your best to stick to it
  • Try to exercise at least 30 minutes every day
  • Set aside a small amount of time each day for yourself
  • Make sure that you maintain annual appointments with your health care provider
  • Complete a short depression screening tool if you feel that you may be depressed

5) Know when to ask for help.

In addition to reporting higher levels of depressive symptoms, caregivers are more prone to reporting problems with familial relationships and to indicate that stress is impacting their physical health. These problems often co-exist and can lead to major depression if not treated. Below are some ways for caregivers to improve their relationships and help prevent major depression from developing:

  • See a family therapist if relationships with siblings and parents are suffering
  • Seek help from a medical professional if you are having thoughts harming yourself or others
  • Alert your primary care doctor of any severe changes in appetite, weight, or sleep patterns

6) Consider adult day care.

Respite care is a solution that provides ailing individuals an opportunity to engage with others in a group setting. At the same time, caregivers are able to take a break from their responsibilities. Adult day care provides a secure environment, so caregivers do not have to worry about their loved ones not receiving the proper attention.

Clearly, caregivers need to be aware that they are at an increased risk for depression. By recognising personal limitations and seeking help from professionals when necessary, you can help prevent depression from developing.

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