Supporting a Loved One Struggling with Anxiety or Depression

While mental health struggles affect many people, caregivers face unique challenges as they need to support both themselves and their loved ones, which can feel like an exhausting juggling act.

Whether it is a teen facing a bully at school or an elderly parent grappling with a medical diagnosis, people struggling with anxiety and depression need to be met with compassion and understanding from their support system to better cope with challenges. Even a partner’s ongoing mental health struggles can take an increasing toll on a relationship and unwittingly put one partner into the role of caregiver.  

With everything caregivers take on, implementing an action plan to deal with their own mental health is key for resilience. By recognizing the importance of self-care and taking steps to attend to their own mental and emotional needs, caregivers can better navigate the challenges they face and maintain the strength needed to support others in a sustainable manner.

There are tools and support systems to help navigate these challenges and alleviate the burden for caregivers who often give more of themselves to ensure the wellbeing of their loved ones. 

A Harvard University study in 2021 found that 36 percent of Americans experienced emotional loneliness, which profoundly affects mental health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), rates of depression and anxiety have risen a staggering 25 percent since 2020.  

Cara Donahue, MA, LCSW, LICSW, is a licensed psychotherapist and one of the experts at Torchlight Parenting & Caregiving, a product of LifeSpeak Inc. In her practice, Counseling Connected, she provides help to people with stress, trauma, anxiety, and depression. Cara recently presented an online webinar focused on anxiety and depression for Torchlight Parenting & Caregiving members.   

According to Cara, the statistics around mental health challenges are shocking. Cara says one in four children reports depression, and one in five reports anxiety. Meanwhile, depression impacts 7 million people 65 and older, while 50 percent also have anxiety 

Cara shared valuable insights that caregivers can use to support loved ones struggling with anxiety or depression below.  

Why support is important

While no one wants to see their loved one suffer through emotional (and sometimes physical) stress caused by anxiety or depression, caregivers play a key role in managing family dynamics. Caregivers can offer their loved ones a safe space to share their feelings and be a trusted source in helping them find support through health professionals and other resources. 

Cara explains that improving communication, creating stronger connections, and working on developing effective coping skills with a loved one can help break down the stigma of mental illness.  

 “While there’s room for growth, discussion of depression and anxiety has become more mainstream and less stigmatized,” says Cara. “This makes relief and healing possible for more people.”  

When it comes to children, Cara says some effective ways to engage and open lines of communication include taking part in fun, playful activities, practicing active listening, and talking about feelings. While this is not necessarily a preventative measure, it is an effective way for parents to help their children build resilience and an understanding of mental health.  

What are the differences between anxiety and depression?

Think of mental health as a spectrum. Some people may experience both anxiety and depression, with a variety of symptoms, while others may only experience one (anxiety or depression) and not the other.  

“People can experience a range of symptoms with anxiety (physical, mental, and emotional) that can manifest in recognizable signs or behaviors,” says Cara. 

Cara explains that anxiety goes beyond typical, everyday stress. People with anxiety experience excessive, persistent feelings of worry, either generally or about specific fears and concerns. In the extreme, these thoughts can become intrusive and even unrelenting, sometimes with irrational fears. Some common signs and symptoms of anxiety may include self-consciousness, difficulty concentrating or hyper-focusing, thinking of time slowing down or speeding up, persistent nervousness, dread, fear, rumination, seeking reassurance, and irritability.  

Physical symptoms of anxiety include muscle tension, aches, nausea, headaches, irregular heartbeat, dizziness, fatigue, agitation and restlessness, difficulty sitting still, and insomnia.  

“Remember that symptoms are not all-encompassing and that people still have their own unique experiences with anxiety,” says Cara. “The same is true for depression.”  

Depression, however, is often associated with persistent sadness and loss of interest or enjoyment. Depression can affect cognitive functions such as executive management skills, attention span, decision-making, and memory. Symptoms may also include emptiness, hopelessness, worthlessness, irritability, frustration, and apathy. 

Physical and behavioral symptoms associated with depression include extreme fatigue, changes in appetite, aches and pains (including a sense of “heaviness”), excessive sleep or insomnia, overeating or not eating, isolating, outbursts, excessive crying, and slowed speech and motor movement. In more severe cases of depression, suicidal ideation is a warning sign that parents and caregivers need to look out for. However, it is not always clear when this is the case. Having an open communication dialogue can help loved ones feel more comfortable discussing their feelings and know that speaking up is okay and necessary.  

Seeking help from a health professional

 Sometimes, intervention or the ongoing support of a health professional is necessary and recommended. But the process of finding and introducing the right professional can seem overwhelming.  

Therapy, in its many forms, is a great resource where a licensed professional can help dig deeper and unveil behaviors or feelings and work with a person to enhance their quality of life. Several types of therapy, including online, in-person, one-on-one, group or family sessions, can achieve different goals or outcomes. 

“Finding a mental health professional can be daunting, especially when complicated by limitations like money, insurance, transportation, the need for specialists, and so on,” says Cara. “Locating a professional often takes time and persistence, but knowing where to look and who to ask for help can make it less stressful.”  

Fortunately, mental health professionals can be found through a variety of sources. 

“One of the most effective and reliable ways to find help comes through referrals from trusted professionals, agencies, and people in your own social circles,” says Cara.  

Directories are also a reliable source for tracking down and contacting professionals such as licensed therapists, many of whom offer online sessions. In urgent situations and when someone is distressed, crisis resources and hotlines can connect people with experts at once.  

Other ways to connect with licensed professionals can be found through:   

  • Employee benefits resources  
  • Mental health resource centers and websites such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 
  • Assistance for veterans (many veterans do not know they have benefits) 
  • Organizations that help specific populations such as autism support networks 
  • School connections to short-term care 
  • Hospital connections to outpatient options 
  • Social services for financial assistance (such as community mental health centers and state departments) 

There are many communities that support different age groups, organizations, religions, and more. Engaging in a group that relates to interests may validate feelings, everyday struggles, or provide valuable information for someone grappling with mental health. 

Leveraging technology to support anxiety, depression, and mental health

 Technology is an excellent source for finding support for caregivers and their loved ones. LifeSpeak Inc.’s suite of digital solutions allows organizations to provide best-in-class content and expertise at scale, empowering individuals to live their healthiest lives. 

LifeSpeak Mental Health & Resilience, a product of LifeSpeak Inc., is a leading benefits-oriented solution providing employees with expert-led mental health and life skills education through thousands of micro-learning videos and live access to the world’s top experts. 

Torchlight Parenting & Caregiving a product of LifeSpeak Inc., helps resolve the everyday, modern challenges of caregiving before they become a crisis, through best-in-class expertise both digitally and through one-on-one advising and concierge services. 

Wellbeing for the whole family

It is important to remind ourselves that while a lot of focus can go into ensuring a family member living with anxiety or depression is looked after, caregivers also make sure every family member (including themselves) feels secure and supported.  

“Remember that while we’re focused on the sometimes-urgent needs of one family member, we can sometimes lose sight of the needs of other family members (and our own),” says Cara.  

When caring for someone struggling with mental health, it can be overwhelming; however, a dedicated support system and the right resources can make a significant difference in navigating these challenges for everyone involved. 

If you are a plan sponsor or employer who is interested in better supporting the caregivers in your company, reach out to learn about our comprehensive suite of solutions.