Carer depression: Are you depressed or just having a bad day?

Caring for a loved one with dementia can be physically, mentally and emotionally draining so it's no wonder many carers feel down some of the time. But if your 'bad days' are becoming more frequent it might be time to get help. Find out if you're depressed and what you can do about it

Could this be you?

You work hard and have always taken pride in caring for your loved one to the best of your ability but

- You're beginning to feel that nothing you do is good enough.
- You are tired all the time, tearful or angry and easily agitated.
- You're suffering physical symptoms such as headaches, chronic pain or digestive problems that won't go away.

Caring for someone with dementia takes its toll physically and mentally and if you're feeling most of the symptoms above it's likely that you're depressed. But try not to worry, depression is not a sign of weakness, it's an understandable reaction to your current situation. In fact it's probably a testament of your strength that you've managed to keep caring for your loved one despite feeling so low. And the good news is that now you've recognised what's wrong, there's plenty you can do to feel better

Did you know?

Researchers have found that a person who provides care for someone with dementia is twice as likely to suffer from depression as a person providing care for someone without dementia.

You aren't alone

There are 670,000 people in the UK caring for a loved one with dementia and 40 per cent of them (almost 270,000 men and women) are clinically depressed or suffering from anxiety at any one time.

Why you might be feeling depressed

Caring for anyone is hard work - it's probably the hardest job you've ever done. But caring for a loved one with dementia, and making sure they're always safe, isn't only physically exhausting, it can be lonely and frustrating, too, and raises all kinds of personal and emotional issues. Watching someone you love deteriorate mentally, behave totally out of character, become aggressive, embarrassing, or hurtful is often described as a 'living grief.' It feels like the person you've known for a lifetime has disappeared...but you still love and have to care for the person they are now.

10 ways to help tackle depression

1. Go back to basics

Making sure you eat properly and look after your physical health might sound obvious, but it's surprising how many carers start neglecting their own basic needs. Remember, it's not selfish to spend time preparing a healthy meal or keep a doctor's appointment – it's essential.

2. Sort out your sleep

Sleep helps the brain and body recover from fatigue and a lack of sleep contributes to depression. If your loved one disturbs your sleep at night but has naps during the day, try doing the same (it's more important than household chores) or talk to someone you trust. If you have a community nurse, or other professional to confide in make use of them, because they may be able to suggest ways to help you both sleep better.

3. Take a good look at your bedroom

Make sure your mattress and pillow are comfortable, your bedroom is dark enough and isn’t too hot or too cold. If you have cold feet try wearing socks to bed. Your body needs to regulate your temperature before you can go to sleep.

4. Consider complimentary therapies

Many people with mild insomnia swear by herbal remedies such as valerian, lavender and camomile, although scientific evidence is limited. Acupuncture, hypnotherapy, and reflexology can also aid relaxation and encourage restful sleep.

Did you know? Science backs up the old theory that a warm milky drink eases insomnia and restlessness, because calcium can reduce muscle spasms and soothe tension.

5. Keep a journal

Write in it every day and express all the emotions you're feeling such as fear, pain or anger. Unleashing it all could really help to improve your mood. Looking back over it in the future might also help you cope with the emotional roller coaster.

6. Take time out

Short regular 'me time' is crucial and it isn't selfish. A short time doing something you enjoy every day (whether it's having a bath, doing a crossword, watching your favourite soap) won't only make you feel better, it will make you a better carer.

7. Get outside

Outdoor exercise is as effective as antidepressants in treating mild to moderate depression, and research shows that contact with nature and green spaces can significantly reduce stress levels, enhance your mood and also boost your heart health. Go for a walk in a park, help a friend on their allotment, plant sunflower seeds in your garden – and get your loved one to help you if they want to.

8. Try to stay positive

Having a positive attitude has been scientifically proven to combat anxiety and depression and improve your health. Remind yourself every day of the successes you've had, the rewards of caring and the satisfaction it has often brought you. Positive thinking has health benefits too. Optimists have stronger immune systems and are able to fight off bugs, viruses, disease and recover more quickly from operations.

9. Phone a friend

Arrange to meet a fellow carer once a week for a coffee and a ‘reality chat.’ This means that once you’ve poured your heart out to them, you then ask them to put what you’ve said into perspective, and remind you of the positives, too. This will be far more constructive than simply sounding off. And of course, make use of our community here.

10. When it's time to ask for professional help

If the self-help tips above don't seem to be making much difference, then it could be time to get professional help. After all, depression deserves to be treated like any other illness. Your GP should be able to offer you everything from anti-depressant medication to psychological therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), and Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), which is now recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) for the treatment of depression. Sometimes a combination of medication and talking therapies works best. You'll find books on all these subjects here.

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