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Hidden issues: depression

Depression imageWith 3 in 5 carers having faced depression because of our caring role, it's time to bring mental health out into the open and work together to find new ways to look after ourselves.

At some point in their lives, 1 in 5 people will experience some form of depression, where feelings of sadness or hopelessness just won’t go away and start interfering with daily life. Depression can range from making things a little more difficult to making things seem impossible.

It’s not hard to see why looking after someone would make us more susceptible to depression. Many of us lose our sense of who we are because we’re focusing so much on the needs of someone else – giving up work, neglecting our own health, feeling socially isolated and at times trapped and unable to see a way out.

There’s no quick fix for depression, but by talking about it openly and seeking help early, we can start to make life better.

Paul's story

Quote 1

Kate and Paul polaroidIt’s a tragic irony that carers so often get sick when looking after disabled or ill loved ones. In my case it is my mental health which was impacted most. The pressure of caring, alongside trying to maintain a normal life, was overwhelming and pushed me further and further into depression.

I began caring for my girlfriend, who would later become my wife, at just 19 years old. I had just finished my first year of university and Kate and I had just moved together. In the space of only a few weeks Kate went from suffering with minor M.E. to not being able to leave the house without a wheelchair. Suddenly she was sleeping 20 hours a day and had extreme muscle pain. Before either of us knew it, I was giving her around the clock care.

We were thrust into a situation we were completely unprepared for. We didn’t have family nearby who could help and had absolutely no idea of what support was available. I now had to work out how I was going to manage this new caring role whilst continuing with a full-time degree and holding down a part-time job.

Predictably, the pressure took its toll. With so much required of me, I was always falling behind with one thing or another. When I was studying, I was neglecting Kate’s needs. When I was caring for her, I fell behind in my studies. When I was earning, I was neglecting both. No matter how hard I worked, it was impossible to keep up.

These pressures were compounded by the enormous expectations I placed on myself. I expected to be able to do everything for Kate, as well as get top grades, be athletic, and be successful in all aspects of my life. The feelings of guilt and failure were overwhelming. I couldn’t cope with these intense negative emotions, which grew day after day.

The depression grew stronger until it began to change who I was. I drifted through each day in a vacant daze. My emotions were numbed as I lost the ability to recognise joy and excitement. Eventually I couldn’t look after myself, let alone Kate. We stopped leaving the house, we stopped eating properly and I barely got out of bed. I became as dependent on Kate as she was on me. An all-time low came when I found myself in hospital after taking an overdose of pain medication. I had been consumed by depression.

Fortunately, my story doesn’t end there. Depression had taken a hold of my life, but I was determined to fight back. I learned to equip myself against depression so that I could battle it and keep it at bay. I met with counsellors, I took medication, and I discovered coping methods that I could turn to when depression encroached. I learnt that to need help wasn’t a failure and that I couldn’t make up for Kate being sick. Most importantly I started to look after myself too. The pressures didn’t go away but I was able to arm myself so that I could deal with the impact that caring had on my mental health.

This didn’t happen overnight. Nor did it happen without setbacks. It’s taken years to regain control of my own thoughts. There were periods of hopelessness and I often felt like giving in, but I continued to fight. Even now I battle guilt and feelings of inadequacy. I may never be completely free of depression, however, through seeking help and equipping myself, I can resist it.Quote 2

Expert comment

Depression Alliance says:

Quote 1

If you’re experiencing depression while caring for a loved one, it’s especially important to look after your own wellbeing and talk to your doctor about the range of treatments and therapies on offer.

It’s also important that you don’t go through it alone. Sharing support with others can be vital in overcoming loneliness and isolation. On our website you can find your local self-help group along with tips and techniques for getting better and staying well.

It can take time, but depression is common and most people will get better with the right help and support.Quote 2

This article first appeared in Caring magazine issue 35. Packed full of news, information and features on all things caring, the magazine is out four times a year for Carers UK members. To get your copy, join our supportive community and be part of our movement for change.

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