Letting family know when you are dealing with depression
September 1, 2021 | View PDF
Q: How do I tell family and friends I’m struggling with depression?
A: While depression is common amongst older adults, it is not a normal part of aging. Life transitions, isolation, death of a loved one, health issues or loss of life purpose are stressful situations, and can cause a person to experience depression. It’s good you have recognized the symptoms, and hopefully are receiving the help you need. For most people, they get better with treatment.
Often older adults do not recognize the signs of depression or take steps needed to manage their mental health. It’s a positive sign you want to reach out to others to discuss what you’re experiencing. Start with a general conversation about the emotions you are feeling, and try to pinpoint what may be causing your depressive symptoms. By staying in conversation and connected to those you trust, you can alter your perspective and even boost your mood. Try to find purpose in life, and focus on what you can do, rather than what you can no longer do. Stay healthy by engaging in regular physical activity, eating nutritious foods, and getting adequate sleep. Lack of sleep makes depression worse. Find compassionate support from friends, family or group gatherings.
Some red flags of depression:
Sadness or feelings of despair, loneliness or isolation
Unexplained or aggravated aches and pains
Loss of interest in socializing or hobbies
Weight loss or loss of appetite
Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
Lack of motivation, energy or physical activity
Sleep disturbances like difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, oversleeping, or daytime sleepiness
Loss of self-worth such as worries about being a burden, feelings of worthlessness or self-loathing
Increased use of alcohol, prescribed or recreational drugs
Medical conditions (feeling incapable, incompetent or loss of independence)
Neglecting personal care such as skipping meals, forgetting meds, neglecting personal hygiene
Fixation on death; thoughts of suicide
How common is depression?
More than 264 million people suffer from depression worldwide and depression is the leading cause of disability in the world, according to the World Health Organization.
Neuropsychiatric disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S. with major depressive disorder being the most common, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Types and forms of depression
Older adults may experience one of these types or forms:
Major Depressive Disorder
Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia)
Substance/Medication-Induced Depressive Disorder
Depressive Disorder Due to a Medical Condition
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Research suggests that depression doesn’t spring from simply having too much or too little of certain brain chemicals. Rather, there are many possible causes of depression, including faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, stressful life events, medications, and medical problems. It’s believed that several of these forces interact to bring on depression.
If you have not seen a healthcare professional about your symptoms or what you are experiencing, contact your provider to make an appointment. Consider getting a full evaluation by recommended professionals to be accurately diagnosed and to receive appropriate treatment.
September is National Self-Care Awareness Month. Many of us tend to put others first and our own physical or mental health gets neglected. This month we should pay more attention to how we’re feeling and our physical condition. If you notice challenges with decision-making, taking care of simple daily activities, or communicating your needs clearly, ask for help. You deserve to be living a meaningful, thriving existence where self-care isn’t selfish. Put yourself at the center of your life.
“Urgent optimism is the desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle, combined with the belief that we have a reasonable hope of success.” - Jane McGonigal.
For more information about generalized depressive symptoms, recognizing episodes of sadness versus depression, and to read additional reports, view these resources:
Karen Casanovas is a Professional Certified Coach who oversees a private practice specializing in aging and health. She’s a Fellow with the Institute of Coaching and former member of the Anchorage Senior Citizens Advisory Commission. If you have a question for Karen, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.