Welcome to Module 4, Session 1

Caregiver Support for Understanding Depression

Step 1 of Caregiver Support for Understanding Caregiver Depression

Watch Intro to Understanding Caregiver Depression

Introducing strategies to help caregivers overcome depression.

Elaine K Sanchez and Dr. Alex Sanchez developed CaregiverHelp.com, a video-based support program that helps people cope with the emotional stress of caring for stroke survivors, people who have Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other progressive and degenerative diseases.

The module Understanding Caregiver Depression, provides insights into two common types of depression often experienced by caregivers – Reactionary Depression and Clinical Depression.

The CaregiverHelp support program has seven modules that focus in helping deal with the anger, guilt, depression and grief associated with caring for those who can no longer care for themselves.

Step number 3

Watch: “Madelyn Gets Depressed”

Elaine K Sanchez shares a story from her book, “Letters from Madelyn” about caregiver depression.

Caregiver Speaker Elaine K Sanchez, http:www.EKSanchez.com, shares a story from her book, “Letters from Madelyn, Chronicles of a Caregiver” to illustrate how a simple event can trigger an episode of caregiver depression and how it is also possible to work your way through it.

Depression is common among caregivers as they witness the steady and progressive decline of their care receivers. Depression can result from stuffing feelings of anger and guilt, and it can be difficult to distinguish between depression and grief, because the symptoms are similar. Headaches, backaches, digestive disorders and other physical ailments are often symptoms of caregiver depression and grief.

This is the second of four videos videos included in the Understanding Depression module.

Step Number 4

Watch: “Depression: Action and Reaction”

How to recognize the symptoms of Reactionary Depression and overcome feelings of despondency and hopelessness.

Caregivers get depressed as they witness the decline of someone they love and as their own lives become more complicated, restrictive and reclusive. There isn’t one single cause of depression among caregivers, or even just one type of depression. It isn’t unusual for someone who is caregiving to experience both reactionary depression and clinical depression.
Reactionary depression can be caused by a specific event or set of circumstance. Caregivers also get depressed when they stuff feelings of anger and guilt rather than dealing with them.
Signs of depression can include a negative attitude, difficulty sleeping, change in eating habits, inability to concentrate, difficulty making decisions along with a variety of body complaints, including headaches, backaches and various digestive disorders. The good news is that you can work your way through a bout of reactionary depression with conscious effort and a little time.

This is the third in a series of four videos included in the Understanding Depression module on CaregiverHelp.com, and it offers strategies for managing and overcoming feelings of depression, which are not uncommon among family and professional caregivers who caring for people who are aged, chronically ill or disabled.

Step 5

Watch: “Depression: I Am Down and I Can’t Get Up”

How to recognize the symptoms of clinical depression and where to find effective treatment.

It’s not unusual for caregivers to experience clinical depression, which is a physical problem that manifests itself in a mental disorder. Signs of clinical depression are a sense of hopelessness and despondency, an inability to imagine anything positive happening in the future, and a feeling that you’re on a downward slide with no way to get off. People who are suffering with clinical depression tend to have recurring thoughts of suicide. If you experience these signs and symptoms of clinical depression for more than two weeks, you must see a doctor for help. You cannot eat, smoke, drink, think, talk or pray your way out of clinical depression. It is a medical problem that requires medical treatment.

Action Step - Getting Started

Understanding and Coping with Depression Among Older People and Their Caregivers

Depression is a common experience among older people and their caregivers. In 2010, the highest rate of suicide was among people between the ages of 45 and 64. The second highest rate was among people 85 years of age and older.

As we age, we begin to experience a series of losses, including the loss of our physical strength and flexibility. We get depressed when we recognize that our mental processes are slowing down, when we suffer chronic pain, and when we develop diseases and conditions for which there are no cures. We also struggle to cope with the deaths of our friends, family members and spouses. We grieve the fact that the life and freedom we once enjoyed is now lost to us forever.

As caregivers witness this progressive decline of of a loved one, they also get depressed because their own lives are becoming increasingly more complicated, reclusive, and restrictive as they do everything they can to support and care for the spouse, parent or friend who is suffering.

It’s important to note that depression is more than a feeling of sadness. It’s is a combination of feelings of hopelessness, inadequacy, severe despondency and dejection.

There are two different types of depression that are common to caregivers as well as their care receivers

The first type of caregiver depression is Reactionary Depression, which can be brought on by any number of situations or events. It’s not unusual to get depressed when we receive a bad diagnosis, get fired from a job, have a financial setback or lose a pet. It can also be brought on as a result of stuffing feelings of anger, resentment, and guilt.

In addition to the emotional upset, depression can manifest itself in numerous physical ailments such as headaches, stomachaches, and back pain, as well as changes in appetite and sleeping patterns.

The good news about Reactionary Depression is that it is usually a temporary condition, and with time and effort, you can work your way out of it. If you are experiencing some of the emotional and physical symptoms described above, you might want to consider taking some of the following actions steps:

  • Write about your feelings. Describe the people, situations or events that caused you to feel this way. Don’t judge yourself or try to talk yourself out of your feelings. Simply describe what happened and how it has affected you.
  • Get involved in a caregiver support group. It will be a safe place for you to express all of your emotions among other people who understand the emotional stress of caring for someone who is aged, chronically ill, demented or disabled.
  • Get outside in nature and get some exercise. Combining fresh air with walking, running, or bicycling will release endorphins in your brain and give you an emotional boost.
  • Some people benefit from meditation, Yoga, reading, or listening to music. If there is a specific activity or a particular friend or group that has always lifted your spirits, do those things and contact those people first.
  • Spending time with children and animals is also a great way to lift you out of a temporary funk.

With some conscious effort, you can work through the feelings and symptoms of Reactionary Depression in a matter of days. It you do not see or feel any improvement within two weeks, you may need medical treatment.

Clinical Depression is different from Reactionary Depression in that it is a medical condition that manifests itself in a mental disturbance. The symptoms are similar:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Total lack of energy
  • Change in appetite
  • Lack of concentration and difficulty making decisions
  • Sense of powerlessness and hopelessness
  • Inability to imagine anything positive happening in the future, a sense of “What’s the use of going on?”
  • Various physical complaints, including headaches, backaches and various digestive disorders
  • Suicidal thoughts that have lasted for more than two weeks

Clinical Depression is different from Reactionary Depression in that is is NOT a condition you can treat yourself

Clinical Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain, and there is no way you can think, talk, pray, eat, drink or smoke your way out of it. If you are clinically depressed, you need to call your physician immediately.

The first step to overcoming clinical depression is to understand that it is not a personal weakness, a lack of faith, or a failure to control your thinking or emotions. Refusing medication to help manage clinical depression would be like refusing to take medication for high blood pressure.

Please remember that clinical depression is a medical problem, and it requires a medical solution.

Helping an Older Person Cope with Depression

If we want to help older people understand and cope with their depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders, we must first acknowledge that this may be the most difficult stage of life any of us will ever experience.

My mother used to say, “The Golden Years start when your last child graduates from high school, and they end the day your health goes to hell.” I think she was right. There is nothing golden about experiencing ongoing losses and physical or mental decline yourself or witnessing it in someone you love. There can’t be any challenge that will require more courage than facing the our own incapacity and impending death.

We should be honest about this when we have conversations with older people. Trying to sugar coat their situation will not change it, so we should address their concerns, fears and ongoing losses honestly and with genuine empathy and compassion.

We Need to Understand that Older People Don’t Talk About Mental Illness

We need to recognize that people who are now between the ages of 68 and 88 were raised during a time of national crisis when the focus was on survival, not self-actualization. Many of them were children during The Great Depression and some have vivid memories of WWII.

They don’t talk about their feelings, and the idea of posting personal information for the world to see on Facebook or Twitter simply would not make sense to them. We must understand that, from their perspective, people who can’t manage their emotions are weak. In their eyes, emotional weakness is shameful and unacceptable. Even if they acknowledged feeling “down,” it’s likely that they would dismiss their feelings by saying, “I’m just feeling sorry for myself.”

With that in mind, we must strive to recognize their generational uniqueness. We need to be sensitive to their deeply ingrained attitudes toward depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders. We must respect their dignity, their privacy, and their need to feel independent and in control.

We should be very careful to not storm into their lives, make a diagnosis and pronounce their treatment. We should ask questions and then listen carefully. If we let them know that we care, and if we can make them feel safe, perhaps they will open the door a crack and let us in.

If they know they can trust us, we’ll be in a better position to help them access the kind of medical and psychological support they need. We will never be able to restore the life they once had. It will never be possible to recapture their “Golden Years”, but with the right approach and appropriate care, we can help them come to a place of peace in their hearts and minds as we help them negotiate the challenges of their final years.

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