How Can I Tell the Difference Between the Normal Stress of Caregiving and Depression?

A fellow caregiver asked...

How can I tell the difference between the normal stress of caregiving and depression?

Expert Answer

Dr. Leslie Kernisan is the author of a popular blog and podcast at She is also a clinical instructor in the University of California, San Francisco, Division of Geriatrics.

To screen for depression, doctors often ask the following two key questions:

  • During the past month, have you been bothered by feeling down, depressed, or hopeless?
  • During the past month, have you been bothered by feeling little interest or pleasure in doing things, especially activities you used to find pleasurable?

Answering "yes" to either is a red flag. Persistent sadness and anhedonia (the inability to enjoy anything) are strong signs of depression.

Eldercare can be very stressful, obviously. And stress can make a person feel pressured, sad, or worried -- in other words, have the blues. But having these emotions usually isn’t the same as being truly clinically depressed.

Unfortunately, chronic (long-term) stress is known to put people at higher risk of developing depression, and caregivers are known to be at particular risk for depression. So if you find yourself often bothered by feeling depressed, or if you're unable to enjoy activities you used to like, don’t just chalk it up to stress. Consult with your doctor.