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What is caregiver depression?

Depression is a deep sadness that lasts more than two weeks and gets in the way of daily activities. If you are depressed or have depressive symptoms, you may cry often, have problems sleeping, eat too much or too little, feel hopeless, helpless, sad, guilty, worthless, and/or sluggish. You may have trouble feeling pleasure, or find yourself pulling away from family and friends. You may even want to hurt yourself. (Call your doctor or 911 immediately if you do.)

Feeling sad is normal when dealing with cancer. People can usually deal with this short term. But, ongoing feelings of depression need to be treated with counseling and/or medication. Caregiver stress and overload can put you at risk of depression. Studies have shown that caregivers have higher levels of depression than non-caregivers. It is important to deal with depression or depressive symptoms because your ability to care for your loved one may be negatively affected.

What can I do about my depression?

Here are some tips for dealing with depression:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Talk to a healthcare provider if your depression lasts more than two weeks.
  • Tell your doctor exactly how you feel, and what medications you are taking.
  • Ask for a referral to a psychologist, clinical social worker, counselor and/or support group for help.
  • Learn about the symptoms of depression and recognize if you have them.
  • Learn how to effectively cope with your stress. Know what works to lower your stress.
  • Get help with caregiving so you have time for yourself.
  • Stay active and try to keep as much of a regular routine as you did before your loved one was diagnosed with cancer.
  • Try to understand what’s causing your depression.
  • Talk to friends or family. Try to describe your feelings and how they are affecting you. Ask your family and friends for ideas to help you deal with your depression.
  • Avoid being isolated. Join a support group.
  • Talk to a counselor, pastor, priest, or psychologist.
  • Cry and express your feelings. You can do this with a friend or use a journal.
  • Try meditation, massage, and relaxation exercises.
  • Try focusing on something other than how you feel.
  • Find a creative outlet like cooking, dance, painting, or music.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol.
  • Eat a nutritious meal. Seek professional help if you are having eating problems.
  • Prioritize getting enough sleep.
  • Engage in a hobby each day that brings you pleasure.
  • Be around other people in restful, relaxing situations.
  • Get exercise and spend time outside.
  • Ask family and friends to stay with you during difficult times, check in with you often, do enjoyable activities with you, and help with stressful tasks like doctor visits, bill paying, or household chores.
  • If you are prescribed medication for depression, take it as directed.

When should I talk to my doctor about my depression?

Call 911 or your doctor immediately if you feel you might harm yourself or someone else, and/or call a regional suicide hotline.

Contact your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms most of the time for two or more weeks:

  1. Depressed mood every day for most of the day
  2. Little interest or pleasure in most activities
  3. Noticeable weight loss, gain, or a major change in appetite
  4. Sleep problems
  5. Agitation or the feeling of being “slowed down”
  6. Excessive tiredness or lack of energy
  7. Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  8. Inability to concentrate or make decisions
  9. Frequent thoughts of death or suicide


  • Cheng, Q., Xu, B., Ng, M.S.N., Duan, Y., So, W.K.W. (2022). Effectiveness of psychoeducational interventions among caregivers of patients with cancer: A systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Nursing sStudies, 127, 104162.
  • Lei, F., Lee, E., Shin., J., Lee, S.Y. (2023). Non-pharmacological interventions on anxiety and depression in lung cancer patients’ informal caregivers: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One, 18(3) e0282887. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0282887.
  • Li, Y., Li, J., Zhang, Y., Ding, Y., Hu, X. (2022). The effectiveness of e-Health interventions on caregiver burden, depression, and quality of life in informal caregivers of patients with cancer: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 127, 104179.