As a carer or family member supporting a loved one, you have a tremendous impact on the life of the person you provide care for, whether it is a family member or a friend.
As a carer, the everyday commitment of advocating for your loved one and providing the best possible care can sometimes lead to burnout, anxiety and the negative feelings that can trigger depression. According to the National Health Institute, the risk of carers experiencing depression is 30 times higher than non-carers. Carers tend to be more vulnerable to depression because they often sacrifice their own physical and emotional needs while tending to the needs of their loved one.
While not all carers experience symptoms of depression their stress levels can be higher than average, due to the constant attention and daily needs required by your loved one to ensure they receive the best possible care.
A study from the Family Caregiver Alliance reports that between 40 per cent to 70 per cent of carers have symptoms of depression. However, most carers do not describe themselves as feeling depressed, because they either do not recognise the symptoms in themselves or they do not want to admit it due to fear of judgement from others. Carers can be embarrassed to admit that they feel depressed, because they may feel guilty or ashamed.
Depression is a really complex condition that can originate from very different factors. It’s important to learn how to recognise the symptoms early in order to prevent the development of a more serious condition.
Some of the symptoms of depression include:
- Feelings of sadness, worthlessness or hopelessness
- Changes in eating habits resulting in weight loss or gain
- Disturbed sleep or insomnia
- Feeling tired all the time, loss of interest in hobbies or activities
- Difficulty focusing or thinking
- Neglecting your physical well-being and appearance
- Physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, stomach-aches, and / or back pain
For your own wellbeing, take some time to care for yourself. It will be easier for you to provide the best possible care if you are feeling well physically and emotionally and not overwhelmed by fatigue, stress or negative feelings.
1. Ask for Support.
People around you may be able to support you. See which tasks you can delegate to another family member or friend. For instance, making dinner, running errands, doing the laundry or if it’s appropriate, taking the person you care for to an appointment. It’s better to not wait until you feel overwhelmed to ask for support.
2. Maintain personal relationships.
Sometimes providing care for a loved one can take time away from your other relationships with friends and family. If you can, maintain these relationships. They will support you and give you strength.
3. Take time for yourself.
You owe it to yourself to take a break to relax and have some fun. For example, go for a walk, read a book, have dinner with friends or go to the movies. Allowing yourself some relaxation time will help you be even more energetic afterwards. Compassion fatigue is common among carers and self-care is very important. It is essential to learn how to recognise your own early signs of stress and create a self-care plan.
If you are the primary carer and do not have the time or possibility to take time for yourself, you can reach out to other organisations and ask for support. The NDIS can fund supports that maintain a carer’s wellbeing and help them support their loved one in their home of community. For example, allowing them to attend everyday activities or go on holiday, while still ensuring the needs of your loved one are supported. To learn more about this, please visit Carer Gateway.
Ability Options also provide a range of respite services in the Hunter and Mid North Coast through our community members. To find out more call 1300 422 454.
4. Take care of your health.
When supporting a family member or friend, we sometimes put our own health second. Try to eat well, exercise and get enough sleep. Often, being in good mental and physical health can help you be more productive and provide better care. You can join a gym or support exercises groups.
5. Join a support group.
Joining a support group is a great way to communicate and share any concerns, frustrations, celebrate joys and hear advice from other carers. This can be an empowering experience.
Some great organisations and support groups to reach out: Carers Australia, Sane Australia, Lifeline or call 131114 and Beyond Blue or call 1300 22 4636.
If you think you may be showing signs of depression, you should consult your doctor. There are also organisations, such as Carers NSW that can direct you to the right people to talk to. Sometimes, it can be helpful to speak to a professional that is not emotionally involved with you or the person you are caring for. To learn more about counselling, you can check the Carers NSW website.