11 Ways to Stop Caregiver-Related Depression


Caregivers' risk for experiencing depression is 30 times greater than that of non-caregivers, particularly among those caring for Alzheimer's and dementia patients, according to the National Institutes on Health.

In an effort to provide the best possible care for a family member or friend, caregivers often sacrifice their own physical and emotional needs and the emotional and physical experiences involved with providing care can strain even the most capable person. The resulting feelings of anger, anxiety, sadness, isolation, exhaustion—and then guilt for having these feelings—can exact a heavy toll. But don't accept that depression is par for course as part of caregiving.

Here are some ways to help combat depression.

1. Talk Back to the Negative Thoughts

Therapeutic discipline called Cognitive Behavior Therapy, states that our thoughts cause feelings and behaviors, not external things, like people, situations and events. We can change the way we think to feel and act better even if the situation does not change. Positive thinking can replace the negative thinking that is part of depression. "Talking back to negative thoughts" such as "I'm worthless" with positive thoughts that challenge the notion "I'm not worthless, I care for a family and I am a good person" restructures negative thought patterns, so you can interpret your environment in a less biased way.

2. Participate in Life

Take a break from caregiving! No one can do it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Find some respite – from family, friends, adult day care, in-home companions, whatever it takes – and participate in activities that may make you feel better, such as going to a movie or ballgame, gardening, exercise, attending church, or going to a social event.

3. Talk to Friends

Don't go it alone. Friends are there to help you through the bad times. Don't bottle up your feelings and keep them to yourself. Try to be with other people and to confide in someone; it is usually better than being alone and secretive. Crying on a supportive friend's shoulder can have an immediate and positive impact on your mood.

4. Look into Self Help

Books can be buddies too! There are numerous books on the topic of depression and they are filled with techniques to deal with the sadness, anxiety and feelings of isolation that caregivers often experience. Visit your bookstore, or search amazon.com for depression. "Feeling Good" and "Beyond Blue" are two that come highly recommended.

5. Keep a Record

Start a diary and write down your feelings. Writing what you're feeling can provide a release for those emotions. Also, look for patterns. Do certain events, people or situations worsen your depression? One definition of suffering is doing the same thing over and over again, each time expecting different results. Next time that situation arises, you will notice if you are acting in the same way that didn't work in the past and can change that behavior.

6. Stay Busy

An inability to get through daily tasks can be a crippling symptom of depression. Feeling unable to make a decision or take a needed action can immobilize a caregiver. To overcome immobility, set realistic goals in light of the depression and assume a reasonable amount of responsibility. Break large tasks into small ones, set some priorities, and do what you can as you can.

7. Start a Project

The fastest way to get out of your head is to put it in a new project--compiling a family album, knitting a blanket, heading a civic association, taking an online course. Focusing your mind and your energy on a task makes it harder to focus on negative emotions.

8. Look for Strength in Numbers

support groups for people who suffer from depression meet in virtually every local community. Also look for groups geared towards caregivers. Knowing you are not alone in your struggles eliminates those feelings of isolation.

9. Get Professional Help

There are many treatments available for depression. Talk to your doctor about the symptoms you are experiencing and find a treatment plan that is right for you. This might include medications, counseling or both.

10. Try Supplements

Studies show that several natural supplements on the market today have been very effective in treating depression.

  • St. John's wort - St. John's wort is the most thoroughly researched of the natural antidepressants. Studies show that St John's wort consistently alleviates depression, anxiety, apathy, and sleep disturbances.
  • 5-HTP - 5-Hydroxytryptophan - The manufacture of serotonin in the brain depends on how much of the amino acid, tryptophan, is delivered to the brain. 5-HTP can help raise serotonin levels. 5-HTP also increases in endorphin and other mood-raising neurotransmitters.
  • SAM-e - SAM-e boosts production and action of mood-enhancing neurotransmitters and promotes the methylation of phospholipids. Numerous clinical trials have confirmed the beneficial effects of SAMe on depression.
  • Ginkgo biloba - People over age 50 who are depressed may actually be suffering from cerebrovascular insufficiency, a lack of blood flow to the brain. Ginkgo biloba significantly improves blood flow to the brain.

11. Be patient

Expect your mood to improve gradually, not immediately. Feeling better takes time. People rarely "snap out of" a depression. But they can feel a little better day-by-day.

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For several years I felt trapped like a hampster in a cage. My departed husband had alzheimers and I was the bread winner, care taker, house keeper. Life was a vicious cycle, I piled on the weight, was angry all the time, the only relief I had was at work and there too I was caring for the sick, I'm a nurse. You would think I could have known the symptoms of depression but I did not. I would be angry when he repeated things a million times, would be angry at his lack of affection to me, angry at the man who did nothing but watch tv and always the same rerun movies . I was very alone with his illness. All my friends and family kept saying, there is nothing wrong with him, he is probably got things on his mind, he is distracted, even when I told them of the doctor reports, and I was angry at them for not seeing for not understanding, for not believing. I was so totally alone. Added to this, we had lost our son, moved a thousand miles from my lifelong home, started a new job. I want to say, I had no idea the pressure this placed on me or the stress and I did not realize how depressed I was until recently and my husband has been gone a year. There was little relief even afterwards, I felt guilty for feeling less pressured, then I lost my job and my dog and that is when I finally let it out and I cried for days. Fnally I started to pull it together, my frieds kept saying, you have needed to cry, you have held it all in for so long, you have tried to show your strength, you are only human, let it out, well I was again angry, where were they when I needed their shoulders and they disbelieved what I tried to share about my husband. Please, if you are in a situation like this, get some outside help, don't depend on family or friends to see you through, they often don't see what we see, or know the things we know, and don't feel guilty for feeling angry. I could never cry or mourn for my son because of my husband, that just made it worse for him. Cry, don't hold in those tears, find something to make you laugh, and please please, find someone to talk to.
I'd like to know who wrote this, and what his or her qualifications are. I take it that it is not someone who has actually been in the caregiving trenches.

Numbers 6 and 7 really crack me up. For 8 years I have been the primary caregiver of an 85 YO man with dementia. And I'm supposed to "be busy" to stop depression? Those of you who are caregivers know what "busy" is. I'm not convinced the author does. Maybe heading up a civic association would stop depression. Maybe I should invest what precious respite time I can arrange on that activity. Yeah, right. I looked up a couple of those supplements and found I shouldn't take them because of their interactions with other drugs I am taking. I'd urge anybody not to take any of them just based on this superficial treatment. Look into them closely before deciding if they might be appropriate for you to try.
There are good suggestions here (like seek professional help) but overall the article doesn't hold much credibility for me.
Join a support group if you can. I have found it very helpful to see that I am not alone and indeed quite fortunate compared to others who are coping with much worse. Also you can pick up ideas and suggestions for how to deal with your situation. The book The Hedge People was suggested to me and i found that book to be a big help in learning to laugh and in better caring for my husband. We are not alone on this road. We can do it!