Written by Ron Sterling, M.D. and Published in Northwest Prime Time Magazine
The Mind Matters Column.
Links to archived columns are below the current column.
The first Mind Matters column was published in the October 2002 edition of the Seattle monthly magazine, Northwest Prime Time. Northwest Prime Time is a available without charge at selected book stores, such as the downtown University Bookstore, or you can e-mail them and get information on how to subscribe. In 2003, Dr. Sterling received a Second Place Award for a Senior Issues column from the North American Mature Publishers Association.
All Mind Matters columns are Copyright 2002-2007 Ron Sterling, All Rights Reserved. Please do not utilize in publications or Web sites without purchasing single-use publication rights.
The November 2007 Mind Matters Column.
by Ron Sterling, M.D. -- November 2007
The Times article reported a government study where depression was tracked within 21 major occupational categories for two years (2004-2006). Although the data relied on self-reporting of depression and the categories were somewhat broad, those involved in giving personal care and service had the highest rates of depression lasting two weeks or longer -- 10.8 percent.
The CNN article reported that the term "caregiver syndrome" is gaining more acceptance and validity in the medical community. The American Academy of Family Physicians, the National Center on Caregiving, and the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry have called for every caregiver to be screened for stress and depression. Unfortunately, a survey done by the American Academy of Family Physicians found that fewer than half of caregivers were asked by doctors about how they were doing with stress and depression.
The September 2007 Journal reported the results of a 20-year study that showed that counseling and support for people caring for a spouse with Alzheimer's disease helps to preserve the caregiver's health. You might think that this would be common sense, but, in fact, as a nation, we have been very slow to understand the difficulties that caregivers face and to provide the acceptance and support that allows caregivers to seek and ask for help. For too long, it was only the caregivers who knew how tough their job was, and for too long, they tried to cope as best as possible without our support. Hopefully, those times are very close to gone.
Although you could appropriately be concerned about whether we should come up with the name and criteria for another "disorder" (caregiver syndrome), it is my opinion that if we give it an official name, people who are slowly deteriorating from the stresses of caregiving might seek help earlier. In other words, they might realize that it isn't just them, it is happening to many other people and they have "permission" to seek assistance.
When an employee is already moderately depressed, it is very difficult for them to take on the stressful task of talking to a supervisor about their problems. Sometimes, it really helps to have a co-worker, family member or friend sit in when the caregiving employee talks with the employer about their caregiving situation. This is one important role non-caregivers can play in supporting caregivers.
Caregiving, in and of itself, does not cause depression. However, depending upon an individual's vulnerability to depression, the chronic stress of caregiving, especially for a loved one who may be suffering, can be more than enough to "burn" brain cells. I have written about the link between stress and clinical depression before. Please visit ourAll About Depression page for more information. Once there are significant signs of a biological basis for depression, appropriate antidepressant medication is often required. We generally cannot think ourselves out of a clinical depression. However, caregivers can help prevent clinical depression by utilizing support services, respite care relief, positive self-talk, and exercise.
My heart goes out to caregivers, and they have my utmost respect. For more information about caring for caregivers, please visit www.AllAboutCaregiving.org. -- Best wishes, Dr. Ron.
Ron Sterling, M.D. is a 64 year-old General and Geriatric Psychiatrist with a private practice in Seattle. He invites you to e-mail him at with any questions about mental wellness or emotional, relationship, or aging concerns. He is the only person who reads e-mail sent to Dr. Ron. Please be assured that your questions and identities are completely confidential and protected. For more information about Dr. Ron and for resources related to senior mental health, please go to SeniorMentalHealth.org. The content offered through Mind Matters is for information only and is not intended for medical, psychiatric, or psychological diagnosis or treatment. Never disregard professional advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read in this column. Read our Disclaimer. If you wish to understand more about Dr. Sterling's potential biases in health care advocacy, please check his Conflicts of Interest Disclosure Statement. Dr. Sterling has no financial interest in any pharmaceutical company, whatsoever, and does not accept nor utilize sample medications.
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RON STERLING, M.D.
General Psychiatry with Specialization in Adult Attention Deficit Disorder
Updated January 8, 2009
Copyright 2000-2009. Ron Sterling, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
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