Caregivers Are at Increased Risk of Depression

Cancer & Caregiving

Mesothelioma caregivers, as well as the patients they’re caring for, are at increased risk of developing depression. Globally, the prevalence of depression among cancer caregivers is 42%.  

A recent study discussed the results of a large systematic review of thousands of studies of cancer caregivers. The results showed an increase in the incidence of depression among caregivers since the last study of its kind 5 years earlier. 

There are a variety of reasons for this increased risk. Many of these factors stem from the isolation that can happen when focused on caregiving.

Risk Factors for Caregiver Depression

  • Emotional distress about their loved one’s illness
  • Lack of sleep
  • Missing activities
  • Pulling back from social support to focus on caregiving duties
  • Skipping their own physical self-care

Mesothelioma caregivers often feel their role is to focus on caring for their loved one without considering the toll or risk of burnout. They prioritize their loved one’s well being and concerns, leaving caregivers to put their own needs and feelings on the back burner. They often minimize their own struggles or symptoms because they’re not the ones diagnosed with mesothelioma. 

Depression Symptoms May Go Undetected

Symptoms of depression tend to go unrecognized or underreported in general. They don’t always grab immediate attention the way anxiety symptoms such as shortness of breath, heart palpitations or jitteriness do. Unfortunately, it can be too easy for depression symptoms to fall under the radar. 

While comprehensive cancer treatment centers are frequently screening mesothelioma patients for depression and emotional distress symptoms, they’re not screening caregivers. Caregivers are less likely to keep up with their routine doctor appointments where their primary care physician may ask questions about mental health. 

This sets the stage for caregivers’ depressive symptoms to go unnoticed and therefore untreated. Knowing what symptoms to watch for can help.

Symptoms of Depression 

  • Fatigue
  • Feeling down or hopeless
  • Lack of motivation
  • Little interest or pleasure in activities
  • Moving or speaking slower than usual
  • Negative self-talk
  • Poor concentration 
  • Sleep issues (too much sleep, trouble falling asleep or inability to stay asleep) 
  • Thoughts of self harm

How do I know if I am depressed or just having a bad day? We all have days when nothing seems to go our way, nothing seems fun or we may want to isolate ourselves from others. 

When symptoms of depression are present most days for 2 weeks, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your PCP. They can do a proper screening for depression and other medical issues that could contribute to those symptoms.  

If you’re having thoughts of self harm, seek immediate medical care or call 988, Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

What Treatment Options Are Available for Caregivers Experiencing Depression?

If a caregiver is experiencing mild depressive symptoms, attending a peer caregiver support group may be beneficial. Having a safe place to talk about what is challenging you and hearing ways that other caregivers are coping can be helpful. 

Peer support groups can also reduce social isolation and help caregivers feel like they’re doing something to take care of themselves. The Mesothelioma Center, for example, offers a dedicated private Facebook support group exclusively for mesothelioma caregivers.

Moderate to severe symptoms of depression may require more intensive treatment. Individual counseling with a psychotherapist who has expertise working with caregivers and cancer patients can provide effective strategies to reduce symptoms. 

Antidepressant medications are also very effective.  Studies indicate a combination of antidepressants and psychotherapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy, is quite effective in reducing depression. 

Depression is quite common with caregiving a loved one with mesothelioma. But it’s usually very responsive to treatment. Relief can be just around the corner.

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