Self Caring

Who? Me? Depressed? 5 Signs of Depression You May Not Expect

Last updated: May 20, 2011

5 stages of grief (Depression) #4

If you're caring for an aging loved one with a serious illness, whether it's Alzheimer's, cancer, COPD, or something else, you should know that you're at risk for a serious disease yourself -- just by virtue of being a caregiver. That disease is clinical depression. And it can creep up without your realizing how seriously amiss things have gone.

Caregivers are twice as likely as the average person to be depressed, research shows -- and the actual number may be as high as 60 percent, or more than half of all caregivers.

Here, five signs of depression you might not think to link with the disease. The good news: Talk therapy, alone or with medication, can lift the condition even if your stresses remain the same or worsen.

Five unexpected signs of depression in caregivers:

1. Hermit tendencies

Ask yourself: Been turning down invites lately? Not calling old friends? Skipping book club or other meetings?

You probably have good reasons: It can be hard to get your companion ready to go out of the house, or the person may not want to go. Friends often prove fair-weather friends, disappearing instead of continuing to socialize with you. Still: If you're housebound and have lost interest in getting out more, it's a red flag. Apathy and loss of pleasure in activities that once brought pleasure are signs of clinical depression.

2. Flubbing the caregiving details.

Ask yourself: Have you missed many refilling prescriptions on time recently? Forgotten to give medication dosages? Lost track of what the doctor was saying at your loved one's checkup?

Trouble concentrating can take many forms, including losing your place in a book or newspaper, managing money accurately, or just messing up on the detail-work involved in running your life (and your loved one's). Difficulty concentrating can be a sign of depression

3. Thoughts that reflect a sense of hopelessness -- about your life.

Ask yourself: Do I ever think thoughts like, "I'll be stuck doing this forever"¦" "My life is over without him"¦." "I hate my life"?

It's not uncommon for dire diagnosis or enrollment in hospice to lead a family to lose hope. But if your feelings of hopelessness are pervasive and concern your own life, that might be a worry.

4. The "caregiver creep."

Ask yourself: Have I gained weight since taking on caregiving? Do I never feel like getting out of bed to get to the gym or take a walk?

The problem of added pounds can the result of not being able to leave the house as freely to exercise. Or it could be triggered by two common depression signs: Changes in appetite (so you're mindlessly noshing more and more, a.k.a. "emotional eating") or a tendency to draw inward and not want to get out.

5. Can't remember being happy.

Ask yourself: When was the last time your heart felt light? Or when you felt at peace?

The diseases of old age are no picnic to live through or to witness. And yet, daily interactions with your loved one or others should still bring some moments of happiness, gratitude, even joy. If it's hard to recollect the last time you felt sheer pleasure, even over small things like a beautiful sunset or a delicious meal, beware.

Depression can strike anyone, but caregivers are especially vulnerable. So don't feel guilty or "weak" if you're not at the top of your game. Find help.