Today on Lionfighters, we have another guest post by Sean Akers, PsyD, a licensed clinical pediatric psychiatrist here at Children’s.
When your child is fighting cancer, your whole focus as a parent is on standing by her through that battle. But you can’t let your own well-being fall by the wayside. Your ability to be there for her might be hindered.
Caregiver depression is something that parents should be aware of. They should also know what to do if it is something they or their partners are struggling with.
Here are my top 4 tips for fighting caregiver depression when your child has pediatric cancer.
1. Be On The Lookout For Signs Of Caregiver Depression.
Sometimes, depression comes on slowly. When this happens, we might be less aware of it—or even minimize it in our minds.
Things like not getting good sleep at night are understandable when you’re facing such a stressful situation. But when they become more than just isolated incidents, it’s time to look at the bigger picture.
It can be tempting to blow off patterns of change—like noticeable differences in mood or appetite—and say that everything is fine. But when those patterns persist for a couple of weeks or longer, it’s probably time to look into getting help.
It’s worth noting that there’s a difference between what we casually refer to as feeling depressed, and actually being diagnosed with clinical depression.
A mental health professional can diagnose depression in caregivers. This diagnosis usually comes after those behavior patterns have gone on for several weeks, not just a few days.
2. Notice Your Behavior And Start Setting Goals For Yourself.
In the meantime, a good place to start working on overcoming caregiver depression is by going back to the basics. This means taking steps to care for yourself.
For instance, when you don’t have an appetite, do you still make yourself eat regularly? That can be tough when you’re depressed. But it’s obviously necessary to keep a healthy diet. Work with a nutritionist to make a food plan for yourself. Or take some tips on eating healthy from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
You’ll also want to make sure you’re setting limits. For example, if you’re in the hospital all the time with your child, are you able to turn a constant stream of visitors away in order to allow time to eat, rest, and just do things for yourself and your child?
Are there tasks you can ask for some help with? For example, you might designate a family member or friend as the “communications person.” She would handle all texts, phone calls, and even social media updates for people who are concerned about how your child is doing.
Setting these kinds of limits can give you time to pull back and focus on taking care of yourself, so that you can be there for your child.
3. Practice Good Communication With Your Partner.
Having good communication with your partner goes hand in hand with that ability to say you’ve reached your limit. It’s okay to say, I’ve done as much as I can for today.”
Some people feel that they need to take on everything alone. Or they bottle up their emotions, leaving their partner unaware of what they’re feeling. But communication is important for problem-solving, taking things off of your plate, and coming up with a plan of action.
So, whether you’re the one fighting caregiver depression or your partner is, it can help to say, “We want to support each other, so what can we do to work together here?” It’s important not to remain silent or dismiss either your own stress or your partner’s stress.
4. Take Simple Steps Toward Self-Care.
It’s natural to want to spend every moment with your child when he’s battling cancer, but you need to take time for yourself to recharge. And that’s okay—even if it’s just a few minutes spent sitting outside, reading a book, or meditating.
Those few minutes might be all you need to energize yourself. You can then return to your child in a better mindset, which can help you both as you face the fight against cancer together.
Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Also read: Caregiver Stress: Why You Need A Break