What is the role of the family caregiver?
Family caregivers are integral to the health and wellbeing of their families. Medical professionals often remark on how helpful family members and friends can be in reporting changes in patients’ symptoms and ensuring that patients consistently follow their treatment plan.
If you are a family member or friend of someone struggling with a mood disorder, you are in a very unique position. You are able to offer a different kind of support than a mental health or medical provider can. You are likely the first to notice changes in your loved one’s mood or functioning. You are also likely the first person with an opportunity to intervene to help improve your loved one’s situation.
As a family caregiver, your role is to support and empower your loved one, often times helping them manage the day-to-day struggles they may face as a result of their mood disorder, and ultimately helping them to find the treatment they need to get well. It is important that you learn as much as you can about the mood disorder that impacts your loved one. By learning more about it, you will be able to help them access resources and the support they need.
Videos to help you help your loved one
Learn about making a Family Action Plan and working with a Primary Care Provider treating your loved one’s depression.
Caregiver Self-Care: What Works
- Acknowledging that what you are experiencing is stressful
- Being careful not to take on too much
- Following a healthy life style to reduce stress (e.g., exercise, meditation, yoga)
- Not using substances to cope (e.g., alcohol)
- Asking for and accepting help from friends and family
- Learning all you can about the mood disorder
- Developing a strong network for social and emotional support (e.g., support group, spiritual group)
- Holding family meetings to discuss ongoing issues and plan changes
- Confiding in people you trust, but being aware that some people will not be supportive because they are uncomfortable or ill-informed about mood disorders (e.g., they might say something like “just tell him to look at the good things in life”)
Caregiver Self-Care: What DOESN’T Work
- Blaming yourself or feeling guilty or responsible for your family member’s suffering
- Putting all your energy on the person of concern and neglecting your own well being
- Setting lots of goals
- Not being aware of your own emotional state, stuffing your feelings
- Doing it all alone
- Not setting boundaries
Why Setting Boundaries is Important
- At times the depressed person’s thinking may be impaired and they might need someone to guide behavior
- Setting boundaries is necessary for the safety of the individual and the family
- Allowing someone who is manic or enraged to act out does not encourage them to practice self-control
- Being afraid to upset someone because they might get depressed or angry will not reduce negative behavior, and will enable them to act in ways that are unacceptable in society and will only cause them hardship later in life
- You are in a relationship with this person and your thoughts and feelings are of equal importance
- Taking care of yourself and finding enjoyment despite what is happening in your family is not selfish, it is necessary for your mental health
How to Set Boundaries
- First, be aware of your feelings and the feelings of others
- Notice when you are feeling manipulated and address it directly
- Use non-blaming “I statements” of I feel “this way” and what effect this had on me when this happened and why. For example, “I felt sad and had trouble helping the kids get to bed when you went out with John on Friday because I was so tired.”
- Clarify what is your responsibility and what is the responsibility of the person with depression. This will encourage independence and accountability.
- Have well delineated expectations of how you expect your family to treat you and each other (e.g., no yelling)
- If expectations of civil behavior are being violated bring them up for discussion with the family as soon as possible
- Determine appropriate consequences for unacceptable behavior and follow through (e.g., no computer time for 24 hours on the next day for teens)
- Do not tolerate mistreatment (e.g., verbal name calling and physical abuse)
- Praise and acknowledge any positive behaviors, efforts, or statements (“I really appreciate your washing the dishes, that was very helpful”)
- Don’t be afraid to say NO when you are being asked to do too much
- Ask others to pitch in when it comes to the management of your family’s problems
- Be aware of danger signs/changes and follow through on safety plans
- Remind yourself of the love you have for your family member while also respecting that his/her behavior and moods may be very different from yours
Read Laura Rosen's expert post on family communication
Read Suzanne Mintz's expert post on caregiver burnout
Read William Beardslee's expert post on when a parent has depression
Podcast about caring for a depressed elderly parent (17 minutes)