Checking your emotional pulse for depression

After the excitement of the holidays, it's only natural to feel a bit blue. The shorter days, which in many parts of the country are also cold and overcast, compound the feeling. But there's a difference between being down in the dumps, which everyone feels on occasion, and being depressed. Since studies have shown that caregivers run a higher risk of depression than the general population, it's a good idea for caregivers to take stock of their emotional state from time to time. The Family Caregiver Alliance estimates that 20 percent of family caregivers suffer from depression.

Here are some symptoms you should watch for:

  • Your eating habits have changed, resulting in measurable weight gain or loss.
  • Your sleep patterns are disturbed. Either you can't get out of bed in the morning or just can't sleep through the night.
  • You feel tired all the time. Even everyday tasks seem monumental. You are overcome with the sense that nothing you do is good enough.
  • You feel empty, sad, or anxious. You've lost interest in people and activities that once brought you pleasure.
  • You experience aches and pains that don't respond to treatment.
  • You frequently feel irritable or angry.

If you experience any of these symptoms for more than two consecutive weeks, you may have depression. In this case, you can't rely on willpower alone to snap you out of it. Your best bet is to schedule an appointment with your family doctor, who can suggest treatments that will work for you. These may range from support groups and therapy to medication.

Although caregivers run a higher risk of depression because they sometimes stretch their emotional and physical resources to the limit, it's important to note that caregiving itself doesn't cause depression. For many caregivers, the time they spend caring for their loved one is rightfully a source of strength and comfort, yet the link between caregiving and depression underscores the importance of caregivers taking care of themselves as well as their loved one.