Last night I met a man who has unexpectedly become the long-distance caregiver for his mother. She is only 63. But retirement has plunged her into depression—followed by the classic cascade of related physical ailments.
And here’s her problem: She has no hobbies. No nearby family. Few friends. In short, with her career behind her, she has no reason to get out of bed in the morning. Contrast her situation with the “Prayer Lady,” whose vague mind suddenly crystallizes weekly when she becomes the caregiver.
Now, depression stems from many disparate causes, but in this case the solution seems to be pretty straightforward: Find her something meaningful to do. While it is certainly far more complicated than I am making it seem, sometimes baby steps are the answer. A visit to the knitting shops’ Tuesday circle. An afternoon in a soup kitchen. A trip together to the gym. Eventually you will find an activity that’s appealing, that will help lift the blues.
For cases where the cause/solution may not be so apparent, here are seven strategies to help your loved one—and one for yourself:
- Listen: You cannot tell someone else how to feel. But listening with empathy can help them be more secure.
- Research: Find out more about the disease, and what local resources are available.
- Help connect them to resources: Finding a therapist or support program is only the start; you need to help your loved one find the right support—then help them see the value so they keep going back.
- Be positive: Not ridiculously upbeat. But keep it light and help focus on the good things.
- Help track treatment: When medication and/or counseling is part of the solution, it is important to continue until the depression has lifted—but it is common for people to decide they are well and quit. Stay involved, to help ensure that treatment runs the full course.
- Stay in touch: Consistent contact (whether once a day or once a week) is a great support mechanism.
- Keep the faith: Above all, don’t give up.
And the one for yourself? “E, all of the above.” Because depression is a serious and ongoing issue for caregivers. Be sure you reach out to someone—and a caregiver support group can be a great “someone”—who can provide reinforcement for you.
IMPORTANT NOTE: This article addresses what is commonly called the blues. It does not address clinical depression, which is a complex and serious illness and should be treated as such.