What do I need to know about caring for someone with clinical depression?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

If your friend or loved one has clinical depression, you can help by encouraging them to get medical attention and by educating yourself about the illness. Once they begin treatment, you can watch for side effects of the medication and help them maintain their treatment plan. You can also watch for signs that major depression symptoms are returning. You should also know that depression is not something a person can "snap out" of. Also know that if your loved one begins talking about suicide or dying, you need to take the situation seriously and talk to their doctor as soon as possible.

Severe sadness, as well as other emotions, have a halo effect over the fabric of social relationships. In particular, people close to the person facing a depressive episode may experience similar feelings, an expression of their own empathy (feeling the other’s feelings as if they were your own).

There is a strong variability in empathy across people, but it is not uncommon for a caregiver to feel what the other person feels, in terms of emotions and sensations. Therefore, a caregiver’s subjective feelings of severe sadness, sense of guilt, helplessness or worthlessness experienced when close to the (possibly depressed) person could represent an alarm.

Nowadays, it is possible to face even severe depression with innovative and integrated approaches. Psychotherapy and medications are available and are able to support the exit from the depressive episode. Sometimes a person receiving care (especially when he or she is facing depression) is not the only one who can benefit from professional support. Professional support can help the caregiver coping with adversities. And, sometimes, it can remind us that everyone has his or her own needs, caregivers included.

"It's important not to be a 24/7 caregiver," warns clinical psychologist Barry Jacobs, PsyD. "A portion of your time needs to be devoted to things you enjoy, replenishing activities." Here are some useful tips to stay healthy while caring for someone with depression:

  • Carve out some time to blow off steam. Anything counts, from enjoying an afternoon walk in the woods to cooking up something tasty.
  • Practice good sleep hygiene. Our bodies and brains need 6 to 9 hours of sleep to restore good brain-cell functioning.
  • Use a daily planner to track appointments and to-dos. The more efficient you are, the more time you may have for yourself.
  • Join a support group where you can talk to people who understand the difficulties you face.
  • Exercise can do a world of good to manage stress, boost your energy, and help nurture your immune system. Even a 10-minute spin around the block will get your feel-good endorphins flowing.
  • Meditation, deep breathing exercises, and progressive relaxation techniques can help release tension and manage stress so you can find calm in your most difficult moments.
Dr. Jeffrey Gardere, PhD
Psychology Specialist

If you care for someone with depression, it's very important to step out of caregiver mode and take care of yourself, too. Watch as psychologist Jeffrey Gardere, PhD, explains why you need to take time out for yourself, and ask for help when needed.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.