Are you depressed or just sad?
Are you depressed?
Sadness is a normal part of life, especially as we grow older. Close friends move away, loved ones die, we develop health problems, finances become difficult. The point about normal sadness is that it comes and goes. You can have good and bad days and, even in the midst of grieving, can still laugh at a good joke or enjoy going to the movies with a friend. Eventually the sadness lifts, grieving begins to fade.
Clinical depression, however, is a chronic illness that doesn't go away. It can cause you to lose interest in activities you have long enjoyed and feel unable to complete normal chores. You may have trouble sleeping or find you're sleeping too much. You may experience memory loss. Your energy level may drop to the point that even routine activities become too much to contemplate. You may feel hopeless and worthless.
Why depression in older women often goes untreated:
- A belief that depression is a normal part of aging. (This is not true.)
- A feeling some older people have that depression is a sign of weak character and something to be ashamed of. (Chronic depression is no more a character flaw than arthritis, diabetes, or any other chronic ailment.)
- Some symptoms of depression may mimic the symptoms of dementia, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, stroke, and thyroid disorders. This can complicate the diagnostic process and is one of the reasons it's important to seek help from a mental health professional with a lot of experience in treating older people.
How is depression diagnosed?
- A physical exam can show if another illness may be mimicking the symptoms of depression. Note: It is also possible to be depressed as a result of having another illness.
- A review of current medications treating illnesses unrelated to depression can uncover symptoms that have been caused or exacerbated by these medications.
- An evaluation by a mental health professional.
Treating depression successfully.
The vast majority of older patients can be helped, though sometimes more than one medication or treatment program must be tried to get the best response. Along with professional treatment, the patient may also benefit from following a regular exercise program, which can act as a mood lifter. Volunteering to help others is a way to expand your social life by getting out into the community and helping others in greater need.
How serious is it to let chronic depression go untreated?
In addition to causing a deeply unsatisfactory quality of life, untreated depression in older women may increase the possibility of other illnesses and cognitive decline. Some research has found that depression can be a serious risk factor for suicide in the older population.
Where to go for help.
Your own primary physician is a good starting point. Be prepared to list symptoms and discuss your feelings in detail. Ask for a referral to a mental health professional who has had a lot of experience treating people over 60, because older patients can have symptoms, causes, and consequences different from those in younger patients. Older patients may also respond differently to medication and are often on additional medications that can affect the treatment program.