How to Recognise and Overcome Depression

How to Recognise and Overcome Depression

Depression is not a normal part of ageing, but it is a common and serious problem among older adults. Often, depression in this demographic is dismissed or goes undetected because its symptoms are mistakenly attributed to the physical, social, and economic challenges of ageing. However, untreated depression can lead to a significantly reduced quality of life and even suicide.

Causes of Depression

Depression has numerous causes, particularly in seniors. Common triggers include:

  • Life Changes: Significant changes such as retirement, moving to a new home, or the loss of independence can contribute to feelings of depression.
  • Loss of a Loved One: The death of a spouse, family member, or close friend can precipitate deep feelings of grief and sadness.
  • Genetic Factors: A family history of depression can increase the likelihood of developing the condition.
  • Medication Side Effects: Medications for high blood pressure, arthritis, and other chronic conditions can have depressive side effects.
  • Combining Certain Medicines: Interactions between multiple medications can also lead to depressive symptoms. Talk to your doctor if this is the case.
  • Health Problems: Chronic illnesses such as thyroid problems, stroke, and arthritis are linked to higher rates of depression.

Warning Signs of Depression

It’s crucial to recognise the warning signs of depression in older adults. These can include:

  • Irritability: Uncharacteristic or excessive irritability.
  • Excessive Crying: Frequent and unprovoked crying spells.
  • Persistent Aches and Pains: Physical discomfort which does not respond to treatment.
  • Sleeping Problems: Insomnia or excessive sleeping.
  • Eating Problems: Changes in appetite, leading to weight loss or gain.
  • Cognitive Issues: Trouble with thinking, memory, or decision-making.
  • Feelings of Hopelessness: Pervasive pessimism or despair.
  • Thoughts of Death: Preoccupation with death or suicidal thoughts.
  • Loss of Interest: Diminished interest in activities that were once enjoyable.
  • Anxiety: Persistent feelings of anxiety or an “empty” mood.

Older Adults and Suicide

The suicide rate among older adults is higher than in any other age group. Suicidal behaviour is rarely triggered by a single event; rather, it is usually the result of a combination of factors. Warning signs include:

  • Recent Loss: Experiencing or anticipating a significant loss.
  • Preoccupation with Death: Talking about death or engaging in risky behaviour.
  • Giving Away Possessions: Disposing of cherished items.
  • Acquiring a Weapon: Buying a firearm or other means to commit suicide.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, seek help immediately. Never challenge someone to follow through on a suicide threat.

Getting Help

Depression doesn’t resolve on its own, but it is a treatable disorder. Treatment options include:

  • Medication: Antidepressants can help correct chemical imbalances in the brain.
  • Counselling: Therapy with a mental health professional can provide coping strategies and support.
  • Lifestyle Changes: Adjusting diet, incorporating exercise, and maintaining a routine can improve symptoms.

Consult with a healthcare provider to explore treatment options and obtain referrals for counselling. Community mental health centres often offer affordable services.

Ways to Help Yourself

There are proactive steps older adults can take to combat depression:

  • Communicate: Share your feelings with supportive family members and friends.
  • Engage in Activities: Participate in hobbies or activities you enjoy.
  • Stay Connected: Avoid isolation by maintaining social connections.
  • Keep a Routine: Stick to a daily schedule to provide structure.
  • Exercise Regularly: Physical activity can improve mood and overall health.
  • Eat Well: A balanced diet supports both physical and mental health.
  • Avoid Alcohol: Alcohol can exacerbate depression and interfere with medications.

Recognising depression as a serious but treatable condition. By seeking help and making positive lifestyle changes, older adults can improve their mental health and enhance their quality of life.

Where to get help

  • Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
  • Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)

If it’s an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

1 Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Fatal Injury Reports, National, Regional and State 1981 –2016