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Self-Care for Depression Caregivers

Depression is a common disorder, affecting almost one in five people of all age groups and both genders at any time. This means that even if you are lucky enough never to suffer from it yourself, at some stage and to some extent you may need to care for someone with depression.

Although caring for a depressed person is a vital role, it is far from easy. If and when the person recovers, the results and rewards will be highly rewarding. But it is often a challenging and thankless task, requiring immense patience and perseverance. Still, it could prove to be essential for recovery and could even save someone’s life.

Your role as the caregiver is vital, because even the best doctors cannot be there 24/7. As the carer, you can help by observing alterations in the person’s behavior or mood. You can also try sympathetically talking to the depressed person about their problems and feelings. Even if what they say is clearly untrue or misguided, you will understand them better afterward. Encourage them to see a doctor and reassure them that medical treatment is effective.

But there are many challenges for you along the way. Caring for someone with depression can be arduous and taxing. Depression sufferers rarely seek or welcome support, as they may feel guilt, worthlessness, poor self-esteem and apathy. They may also resist someone getting close to them and want a lot of time alone. Their state of mind can be very hard to engage with, so initially your offers of help and support may not be accepted.

Understanding the classic symptoms of depression and how best to deal with them can help enormously. You will find that many of the barriers that stop depressed people from accepting help can be overcome.

It is crucial that your own health and welfare do not suffer. You must look after yourself in order to look after your ‘patient.’ Take a step back and see whether some of the support can be delegated to help you avoid exhaustion. Make sure you get enough time to rest and sleep, and maintain your usual exercise routine.

Other positive strategies include relaxation, deep breathing and meditation. Hobbies and creativity will help you enjoy life — try not to neglect them when the pressure is on. Music is closely tied to emotions. Use it to calm down, or for a burst of energy. Humor can seem insensitive or unimportant in the context of depression, but it can be a useful way to release tension.

Good nutrition is important for everyone, but especially when caregiving is draining your resources. Try to maintain perspective and self-awareness. Knowing your patterns and habitual responses helps you work with, not against, your true nature. Constructive self-talk can help to boost your confidence when you’re flagging. With greater confidence in yourself it’s easier to be patient and confront problems.

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Planning ahead, setting goals and time management all help to achieve daily targets and get through difficult times such as visits to the doctor. Getting support from friends, workmates and family can be essential; some things cannot be dealt with on your own. Having your own counseling and getting other professional support or advice might be necessary. It can be very useful to talk to other carers, people who know what you’re going through and understand how hard it can be. Let people know how you’re managing, what problems you’re facing and ask them for their support and help.

Quick ways to keep your perspective:

  • Take a break to remove yourself from the situation if it becomes overwhelming
  • Breathe deeply and slowly for a few minutes
  • Have a relaxing bath or go for a walk
  • Ask for help, delegate or share responsibility
  • Write down your thoughts so they begin to make sense
  • Do just one thing at a time
  • Reduce your standards, if only temporarily
  • Book a short break if possible
  • Meet up with supportive friends and let off steam

Accepting What Can’t Be Changed

This is not about giving up, but finding the strength to accept reality. It takes a lot of courage to accept our lack of control over the lives of people we care about, especially when they are not taking good care of themselves. Unexpected and unpleasant events may happen; there is no way we can have complete control. Fighting against the grain only leads to anger and frustration, and wastes energy. Trying to control yourself too much can also increase the pressure. Do your best, but remember you are doing a difficult job and no one can ever be perfect.

Caregiver Resources

Depression Caregiving

Caregiving for the Depressed

Preventing Caregiver Burnout

National Family Caregivers Association

Self-Care for Depression Caregivers

Jane Collingwood

Jane Collingwood is a longtime regular contributing journalist to Psych Central, focusing on topics of mental health and dissecting recent research findings.

APA Reference
Collingwood, J. (2018). Self-Care for Depression Caregivers. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 2, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.