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Is It Caregiver Stress or Depression?

It's natural for you to feel stressed now and then when you're taking care of your loved one. Sometimes, though, stress can lead to -- or be a symptom of -- depression. There are treatments that can help.

Here are some signs to watch for that might show you're getting depressed:

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  • An "empty" feeling, ongoing sadness, and anxiety
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of pleasure in activities you once enjoyed
  • Sexual problems or a drop in your sex drive
  • Change in sleep patterns, such as waking up earlier than normal in the morning, trouble getting to sleep, or needing more sleep
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Regular episodes of crying
  • Aches and pains that won't go away
  • Trouble staying focused, remembering, or making decisions
  • Grim feelings about the future
  • Feeling guilty, helpless, or worthless
  • Feeling irritable or stressed
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Stomachache and digestive problems

If these symptoms last for more than 2 weeks, see your doctor.

Treatment

Your doctor may treat your depression with antidepressant drugs, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two.

If you have psychotherapy, you'll talk to a therapist who can help you focus on the behaviors, emotions, and ideas that are contributing to your depression.

During your sessions with a therapist, you'll learn to identify the problems or situations (such as caring for an ill or elderly loved one) that may be affecting your mental health. You'll then figure out which of these problems can be solved and improved. It will allow you to regain a sense of control and pleasure in life.

Preventing Depression

There are a few practical steps you can take to prevent depression. Get regular exercise and eat a balanced diet. That can help you avoid illnesses that can bring on depression.

It's also important to call your doctor right away if you feel overwhelmed by your caregiving tasks or notice any changes in your health, thinking, or behavior.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on February 22, 2015

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