Depression is a frightening illness. It is frightening because the sufferer seems to be taken over by the negative disease and their outlook becomes hopeless, they see themselves as worthless and they believe that they can’t be helped. Understandably, when one is living with a family member who has depression, help for the sufferer is the main focus and readily available. However, my focus is on those who care for someone with depression, and help is not so available.
It takes tremendous energy to care for someone with depression, because more often than not it is kept a secret due to the stigma still associated with mental illness. Often a partner, parent or even sibling, can be the target of anger because they are the ones putting safeguards into place to protect their loved one. The language of depression can be like a repetitious loop – constant repetition of negativity which is so difficult not to be sucked into. The required patience and understanding can take a toll on other relationships within the family, and without meaning to, other family members can feel rejected. Depression seems to have its own negative energy and this can be felt within a household.
It is a constant juggle to maintain some sort of normality within the framework of the family, even though the depressed person needs to be monitored for their own safety.The effort to distract the sufferer from their thoughts takes creativity – encouragement to exercise, eat well, get sleep and seek help.
So what are some things that a care giver can do to help themselves:
1. Whenever you can – get some quiet down time – take a break – practice mindfulness and stay in the moment.
2. Seek help for yourself. Having a safe, confidential place where you can vent and be understood helps – my clients have told me!!
3. Make sure you share exercise, good eating habits and get plenty of much needed sleep.
4. Remember that depression has a language all of its own – don’t get sucked in by it and softly challenge the sufferer – or just listen.
5. Try good distraction techniques whenever you can.
6. Try to keep the routine as “normal” as possible – try not to focus on the sufferer – as hard as that is.
7. Remind the sufferer and yourself that depression is treatable and manageable – it may take time and there is always light at the end of the tunnel.
8. Don’t be a superhero – admit that being a caregiver is exhausting and that you can’t do everything.
9. If you have children try to explain that the person suffering is not well and will get better.
10.When the sufferer is well, sit together and work out a management plan – it will decrease the anger when you implement it.