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January 5, 2012

Coping with a Loved One's Depression

When a loved one suffers from depression, the demands may be overwhelming, causing you stress, frustration, and exhaustion. But your loved one's depression doesn't have to take over your life! Understanding depression is essential to coping with your loved one's illness. People who are depressed typically experience feelings of intense sadness, hopelessness and a profound sense of emptiness. A depressed person may be withdrawn, irritable or even hostile. But it's not personal. It's the illness. It's also important to recognize that depression isn't something a person can just "snap out of." Researchers believe that many people suffering from depression may have reduced levels of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, especially serotonin, which helps regulate mood and emotions. Personality, temperament, life experiences and family history are also thought to play a role in depression. Admittedly, caring for a depressed loved one can be challenging. A person who is struggling with depression may be unable to be sensitive to the needs of others. As a result you may feel discouraged, manipulated or that nothing you do is ever right. Try to be realistic about your ability to help your loved one. You can provide support, encourage the depressed person to visit a health care professional and to follow the prescribed treatment plan. But don't feel guilty about aspects of the illness beyond your control. Don't sacrifice your own physical and emotional needs. Taking care of yourself will help you AND your loved one in the long run. Try to eat healthy foods, get plenty of sleep and exercise, and be sure to make time for activities you enjoy. Looking out for your own needs includes creating a dependable support network. Enlist family and friends to help you in supporting and caring for your depressed loved one. Consider joining a caregiver support group in your community, where you can feel comfortable discussing your feelings and the unique challenges of care-giving with others in similar situations. It may also be helpful to practice stress-reduction exercises, such as meditation, guided imagery, yoga, tai chi or qi gong. Check locally for classes, or purchase a video so you can learn and practice these techniques at home. Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for caregivers to ALSO suffer from depression. If, despite your best efforts to be optimistic, you find yourself experiencing changes in appetite or sleeping, fatigue or loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed, DON'T HESITATE TO SEEK COUNSELING FOR YOURSELF! The good news it that 80 percent of people who suffer from depression get better with proper treatment and most people begin to show improvement within a few months of starting treatment. If you're caring for a loved one who's suffering from depression, be sure to make time to care for yourself.

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Last Updated:
December 20, 2012