Who is a “caregiver” and what does the role really entail? We’re debunking three common myths — and sharing the actual facts — about caregiving.

Myth: You have to be related to someone to be a caregiver for them.

Fact: While many caregivers are family members, it’s not a requirement. Sometimes, the involvement of a member of their family of origin can be counterproductive. It all depends on the relationship between the person living with the mood disorder and the potential caregiver. At Families for Depression Awareness, a caregiver is a person who is willing to provide the kinds of support that a person with depression or bipolar disorder needs to get care and get well. If you’re prepared to invest yourself in providing emotional, logistical, or even financial support to a family member or friend, or help them get information and find care, you can be a caregiver. And by learning about mood disorders, treatment options, communication strategies, the process of change, and your own self-care (including boundaries!), you can be an effective support to this person who matters to you.

Myth: You have to live in the same house as someone to be an effective caregiver.

Fact: As long as you are committed to your relationship and to providing constructive support, you can be an effective caregiver from the same house, the next state over, or across the country and beyond. As we have seen from the separations caused by the pandemic, a person who is willing to listen, be empathetic, and offer support can be just as effective as someone in the same room. You may even know of some relationships that are stronger because the people are not seeing each other every day or sharing a bathroom. Don’t let distance be a deterrent to you staying in touch and providing the kinds of support that your loved one says will be helpful and that feels right to you.

Myth: Being a caregiver means you are responsible for that person’s health, happiness, and well-being.

Fact: It would be an awful lot to shoulder if we had to tend to all of someone’s needs and make their dreams come true. Being a caregiver does not mean that you take over all aspects of your loved one’s life. Rather, your aim is to support them in the ways that feel right to both of you. A person with a mood disorder can usually make decisions and take actions, but they might need some help thinking things through, gathering reliable information, or dealing with logistical issues. Sure, we occasionally need to take action if our loved one is engaging in behaviors that are dangerous to themselves or others, but generally, the caregiver’s role is to lend support so that their loved one can get – and stay – on the path to mental wellness.

Learn more

The constructive support of families and close friends can help to reduce setbacks, assist recovery, and prevent suicides. Get started as a caregiver with these resources:

To learn more about caregiving from a distance, check out our webinar, “Caregiving from a Distance: How to Support Someone Who Lives with Depression.”