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Carer stress and depression

Caring for someone can lead to a lot of extra stress in your life.

Alongside the responsibilities to the other person, don't neglect yourself. If left unchecked, stress can lead to or be a symptom of depression.

A depressed mood is a normal reaction to loss, life's struggles or an injured self-esteem. Sometimes, though, depression becomes intense, lasts for long periods and can prevent a person leading a normal life. Depression that has these characteristics is a treatable condition.

If you have depression, it's important to remember that depression is a medical disorder that can be successfully treated. It is not a personal weakness, nor a sign that you are unable to care for your loved one. Early treatment is important for many reasons including:

  • Without treatment, depression can become worse.
  • Untreated depression can lead to suicide.
  • Without treatment, people who have episodes of depression often do not fully recover.
  • Treatment can prevent depression from coming back.
  • Your depression may be the sign of another illness that, without treatment, can get worse.

Symptoms of depression

Here's a list of common signs of depression. If these symptoms last for more than two weeks, seek medical advice.

  • An ‘empty’ feeling, ongoing sadness and anxiety.
  • Mental or physical tiredness or lack of energy.
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once pleasurable.
  • Decreased sex drive or sexual dysfunction.
  • Change in sleep patterns including very early morning waking, insomnia or increased need for sleep.
  • Problems with eating and weight (gain or loss).
  • Recurrent episodes of crying.
  • Aches and pains that just won't go away.
  • Upset stomach and digestive problems.
  • Difficulty focusing, remembering or making decisions.
  • Feeling that the future looks grim, feeling guilty, helpless or worthless.
  • Feeling irritable or stressed.
  • Thoughts of death or suicide; a suicide attempt.

Treatment for depression

More than 80% of people with depression can be treated successfully with antidepressant medication, psychotherapy or a combination of both.

There is not just one cause of depression. It is a complex disease that can occur as a result of a multitude of factors. Depression is believed to be associated with chemical imbalances of the brain. These chemicals, called neurotransmitters, are responsible for helping to communicate messages from brain cell to brain cell. Antidepressant drugs work by increasing the amount of neurotransmitters that are available. This ultimately results in improved communication between the brain cells, called neurons. There are many antidepressant drugs available to treat depression.

Psychotherapy involves talking to a qualified professional, who helps the depressed person focus on the behaviours, emotions and ideas (including negative thought patterns) that contribute to his or her depression. Through therapy, patients learn to understand and identify the problems, events or situations (such as caring for an ill or elderly loved one) that may contribute to depression, and understand which aspects of those problems they may be able to solve or improve. Therapy also helps the patient regain a sense of control and pleasure in life.

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