When Caregiver Stress Becomes Depression

Saturday, March, 29, 2014

As you adjust to the new emotions, expectations and duties surrounding your loved one’s declining condition, stress is a natural – and unavoidable – part of the process. A certain level of grief and tension accompanies this difficult time.

But there is a difference between normal stress and clinical depression. Studies indicate that between 20 and 60 percent of family caregivers show signs of a depressive disorder.

The sooner you can recognize these symptoms, the better they can be treated, and early treatment can help prevent a deeper, more prolonged depression. If you find yourself wondering whether you might be developing signs of caregiver depression, the best thing you can do for yourself – and your loved one – is take time to assess your situation and act accordingly. 

Here are five signs of caregiver depression and ways you can respond to this serious condition:


1. Constant feelings of helplessness and inadequacy

Do you find yourself believing that nothing you do for your loved one is ever good enough? The shift in thinking from “this is difficult” to “this is impossible for me” can be a subtle one. If you notice this thought pattern, share your concerns with close family and friends, and consider contacting your hospice care team.

A planned session to set realistic goals – and the opportunity to receive assurances about your role as caregiver from those you trust – can help you keep a balanced perspective.

2. A loss of interest in people and/or activities

Often your home will see many visitors during your loved one’s final season of life, and conversation will naturally revolve around topics that are all-too-familiar and unpleasant to you. As welcome as these visits might be, they can also be an added burden. Many caregivers experience “visitor burnout” at some point, wishing for more solitude and not wanting to expend so much energy on hosting.

These feelings can evolve into something more serious. You may lose all interest in spending time with friends and family or participating in favorite pastimes. ?If you feel disconnected from people and activities that normally give you pleasure, it may be a sign of depression.

Take steps to reduce the stress factors in your life. You may wish to set visiting hours. Arrange breaks for yourself, and don’t be afraid to ask family or friends for help. Consult with physicians and your hospice care team to establish treatment schedules for your loved one that also work best for you.

3. A change in sleeping habits; perpetual tiredness

As you adjust your schedule to your loved one’s needs, your sleep patterns may be disrupted. However, a major change in the amount of sleep you get – whether more or less – could indicate something more serious. Sleeping longer, while still feeling tired most of the time when awake, is often a sign of clinical depression.

If you experience this condition for more than two weeks, consult your personal physician. The right sleep aid or intentional adjustments to your schedule can be of great help.

4. A change in eating patterns; loss of appetite

Dietary requirements can change dramatically for a loved one during their final weeks and months of life, and it is easy for the caregiver to neglect their own tastes and requirements as they consider day-to-day menus.

This can lead to a dramatic shift in your own eating habits resulting in significant weight loss or gain. Conversely you may find yourself reacting to stress by engaging in unhealthy food-related behaviors such as poor food choices, skipping meals or frequent overeating.

Studies have shown that dietary habits can both contribute to the occurrence of depression and indicate a depressive state. If there is a noticeable change in your relationship to food, consult with personal physician about steps you can take to get back on a healthy track. 

5. Suicidal thoughts

While fleeting thoughts of suicide are not necessarily indicative of depression, any such feelings should be taken seriously and communicated quickly. If you find yourself considering taking your own life, seek help immediately from a trusted source.

Often clinical depression accompanied by suicidal feelings can be effectively treated with medication, professional therapy or both. Your health care provider may wish to discuss such options with you.


We’re here for you.

In all of these situations, whether the symptoms are mild or severe, communication is the key to your well-being. You don’t have to go through this alone. If you are facing these questions and want professional assistance, a meeting with the experienced professionals of the hospice care team at Hospice & Palliative Care of Iredell County can help you work through these issues. Ultimately, taking the time to address your own needs will empower you to provide the best care for your loved one.




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