Caregiving for Loved Ones With Major Depression

Do you have a loved one who's depressed? Understanding major depression and its impact can be your first step toward wellness.

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Updated on January 29, 2024.

We've all felt sad or blue on occasion. We've grieved at the news of a friend's major illness, the death of a loved one, personal job loss, or divorce. For most of us, these feelings of sadness pass with time. But if they persist for two weeks or longer and begin to interfere with day-to-day activities, it may signal symptoms of major depression.

Challenges for depression caregivers

As the caregiver of someone who has symptoms of depression, you may be tasked with most of the household chores. A person with depression is likely to sleep a lot and—if they don't receive treatment—may lack the energy or motivation to help you. Your loved one may not be able to keep a job, appointments, or perform personal hygiene. For you, the caregiver of someone with depression, the stress of household, financial, and personal responsibilities can quickly become overwhelming.

"One of the most difficult parts for family members is understanding this illness, especially if the members have never experienced depression firsthand," says Lisa Rene Reynolds, PhD, a marriage and family therapist. Reynolds recommends that depression caregivers get to know the illness by talking to the depressed person's healthcare provider or therapist and reading about depression. She warns that managing one's own emotions can be difficult. "Feeling resentful about pulling all the weight, worry about the increased chance of self-harm, lack of control over fixing the situation, and frustration or anger are all common thoughts and feelings," she explains.

Over time, caring for a depressed loved one can impact your own health and wellness, including your quality of sleep, your stress level, and your performance at work or school. Higher levels of stress can cause psychological and physical issues, such as high blood pressure, a lower immune system, and anxiety. This constellation of side effects from the stress of caregiving is often known as caregiver burnout. In terms of relationships, a partner's chronic major depression can also increase chances of divorce and social isolation, says Reynolds, who is also the author of Parenting through Divorce: Helping Your Kids Thrive During and After the Split.

Talking about depression treatment

To protect your depressed loved one's health and wellness, as well as your own, it's important that your loved one gets professional treatment. The goal of treatment is to alleviate depression symptoms and help them get back to doing the things they used to enjoy. This can improve your loved one's daily experience and take much of the weight off of you as their caregiver.

While treatment is essential, talking to your loved one about depression symptoms can be a sensitive situation. If you are fearful of approaching your loved one, keep in mind that people who are depressed want to believe there is hope for happiness. Not bringing up the subject of treatment may only perpetuates their depression.

To get the conversation started, simply let your loved one know you're concerned and want them to feel happier. Suggest a number of options to allow the person to maintain some sense of control, such as seeing a therapist, going to a medical doctor for antidepressants, or talking to a counselor or clergy member. If your loved one is resistant, you may need to enlist others. In some cases, the depressed person may be more likely to listen to a friend or coworker than to a close family member. In the end, it doesn't matter how your loved one gets help—as long as it happens.

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