Imagine a job where you work and don’t get paid any money. You are given no vacation time, plus you are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
You might work another job in order to have adequate income.
According to the CDC, as of 2012, 52 million Americans have been doing this. They are unpaid caregivers providing care for a person over the age of 18 who is ill or has a disability.
This is a powerful example of the love people have for their families and their willingness to care for others.
When considering all the negative things that people hear on the news every day, it is positive and affirming to know that so many people are trying to care for others and make life better.
However, caregiving might negatively impact the caregiver’s health and increase his or her risk for depression.
More than half of caregivers have had deterioration in their own health as a result of caring for someone with an illness or disability.
They might be unable to get to the doctor because of caregiving-related tasks, unable to afford services or medicine, or too tired to even schedule an appointment.
Family Caregiver Alliance (www.caregiver.org) reports that 40 to 70 percent of caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression, and up to half of those cases meet criteria for major depression.
Caregiving itself does not cause depression. However, most people giving care do not prioritize their own wellbeing, and are therefore at a significantly higher risk for depression and other illnesses.
If you are a caregiver, it is important to take time to go to your own wellness visits, get adequate rest, take time for yourself, and be willing to ask for and accept help when it is available.
If you are feeling run-down, it is important to identify any signs of depression and seek help. Changes in appetite, sleep habits, an inability to enjoy things you used to enjoy, and inability to focus are often signs of depression.
It is also important to check in with a medical doctor to make sure they are not signs of another illness.
Tapping into your support system and letting others help is one way to reduce the load of caregiving. Friends, family, neighbors and community organizations are often happy to offer some emotional or practical support.
Counseling can also provide assistance in managing the ongoing stress, coping with feelings of grief and guilt, and healthy emotional management skills.
If you know someone who is a caregiver, he or she might be hesitant to ask for help, but even doing small things like letting them know you are keeping them in your thoughts can make a difference.
Alison Jedrick, MSW, LISW-CP, is an associate with Psychological & Counseling Associates of the Lowcountry, LLC in Bluffton.