How can I help Mom with her depression?

1 answer | Last updated: Jul 08, 2010
A fellow caregiver asked...

My mom was the main caregiver for my grandmother for at least 10 or more years. My grandmother died last January after having to be put into a nursing home eight months prior because of my mother's declining health and my grandmother's dementia and Alzheimer's. Mom could no longer take care of her.

Since my grandmother's death, my mother seems to have been so depressed. She always talks about my grandmother even though my grandmother left her with relatives and didn't raise her as she was growing up. She won't hardly go anywhere or do anything outside of her home, but she always has too much to do. We are really worried about her but can't seem to do anything right for her. We don't know what to do. It's getting so being around her is so depressing and stressful that we dread being around her. Is there anything we can do ???

Expert Answers

Kenneth Robbins, M.D., is a senior medical editor of He is board certified in psychiatry and internal medicine, has a master's in public health from the University of Michigan, and is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His current clinical practice focuses primarily on geriatrics. He has written and contributed to many articles and is frequently invited to speak on psychiatric topics, such as psychiatry and the law, depression, anxiety, dementia, and suicide risk and prevention.

Grieving is a complex process that should be expected to include much sadness. However, when someone's sadness after losing a loved one prevents them from being able to function, and this goes on for more than a month or two, they have likely moved from grieving to a clinical depression. This happens to about 20% of people who go through grieving. There are some experts who believe experiencing a clinical depression after losing a loved one is more common if the relationship with the loved one was mixed, as may be the case for your mother. Given your description, your mother may be grieving not only the relationship she had with her mother, but also she may be sad about the potential relationship she wishes she had with her mother.

When someone, like your mother, is not able to function in their lives after losing a loved one, I would recommend an evaluation by a mental health professional, ideally a psychiatrist. An antidepressant may be appropriate and she is likely to improve by talking with such a professional. They can help her understand the feelings she is experiencing and ultimately help her resolve them.