Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: September 2023
Major depressive disorder (MDD), also known as depression, is a challenging mental health condition. People with MDD may have intense sadness, hopelessness, and a loss of interest or pleasure in things they used to love. Taking care of someone with MDD can be hard on your emotions.1
But caregivers play a vital role in helping their loved ones cope with MDD and stay well. Caregivers provide support, understanding, and encouragement. If you are a caregiver for someone with MDD, you are not alone in this journey, and your efforts truly matter.1
Responsibilities of a caregiver
The job of a caregiver for someone with MDD can vary depending on how serious the condition is and what the person needs. Here are some common things caregivers do.1
Provide emotional support
Offering empathy, understanding, and a nonjudgmental ear is one of the most significant roles of a caregiver. People with MDD may have intense emotional changes, and a caring presence can make a world of difference.1,2
Help manage medicines
Sometimes, caregivers need to help their loved ones with their medicines. This could mean making sure they take their prescribed drugs on time. It may also mean watching out for and reporting any side effects or bad reactions. In the event someone is suicidal or at risk of overdose or unsafe behaviors, caregivers may need to monitor medicines.1,2
Support your loved one in getting professional help and going to therapy. You can suggest going with them to appointments if they are comfortable with that.1,2
Help with daily tasks
During periods of severe depression, a person might find it hard to do everyday tasks like hygiene, cooking, or cleaning. You may need to help with or prompt these practical things during tough times.1,2
Pay attention to your loved one's symptoms. If you notice any changes in how they act, sleep, or eat, it could mean they need changes in their treatment plan. Contact their doctor if necessary.1,2
Get help in times of crisis
Caregivers are not substitutes for mental health professionals. But they should be prepared to act in times of crisis. Knowing who to contact in emergencies is vital. If your loved one is having worsening symptoms, contact their healthcare team. If they are having thoughts of suicide, call or text the national Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988.1,2
Challenges of caregiving
Caring for someone with MDD can present unique challenges, including:1
- Unpredictability – Depression can be unpredictable. Your loved one may have good days and bad days. You will need to adapt to these ups and downs.
- Managing symptoms – Getting a loved one to do things they used to enjoy, like hobbies or hanging out with friends, can be hard during depressive episodes. But it is important for their well-being.
- Difficult times – MDD is complex, and there are lots of unknowns. Patience and understanding go a long way.
- Self-care – It is easy to neglect your own well-being while caring for a loved one. But practicing self-care, such as getting enough sleep, managing stress, and seeking support, is crucial.
Supporting the caregiver
While caregivers play a crucial role in helping their loved ones, helping themselves is just as important. Self-care tips for caregivers include:1,2
- Remember your needs. Prioritize your own physical and mental health. Make time to do things that bring you joy and relaxation.
- Ask for help. Reach out to support groups or mental health professionals. They can offer help, compassion, and tips for coping with the challenges of caregiving.
- Learn more. Educate yourself about MDD. Understanding it better can help you give better support.
Finding resources and getting support as you care for your loved one is essential. Some national groups with valuable resources for caregivers of people with MDD include:1
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) – NAMI is a group that helps people and families with mental health conditions. They provide information, support, and advocacy for people affected by these conditions. Visit their website for information on local chapters and resources.
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) – DBSA offers support groups, educational materials, and webinars for people and caregivers with mood disorders. They also have local chapters.
- Mental Health America (MHA) – MHA offers a range of help, including screening tools and educational materials. Visit their website for more information.
- Support groups – Explore local or online support groups or community organizations that focus on mental health and caregiving. These groups provide a place to share experiences and gain insights from others in similar situations. Your or your loved one’s healthcare provider may be able to direct you to MDD support groups.
Caring for a loved one with MDD is a significant and often challenging responsibility. But with patience, understanding, self-care, and access to supportive resources, caregivers can provide needed support to their loved ones. Remember that asking for help and support for yourself is just as important as caring for your loved one.