Article | October 2019

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Depression and Mental Health

Learn the signs.

Depression is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act. It causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in things you once enjoyed, and even physical problems.

Depression in older adults is common, but it is not a normal part of aging. It affects more than 6.5 million people in the U.S. age 65 years and older. It could make it difficult to treat other conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. But, it is treatable and sometimes preventable.

Warning signs

Feeling sad or blue is an occasional part of life, but if these feelings last more than 2 weeks, it may be a sign of depression.

Other signs may include:

  • Sadness lasting most of the day or almost every day
  • Loss of interest in all or almost all activities
  • Changes in weight or appetite
  • Sleeping more or less than normal
  • Feeling irritable, agitated, restless, or slow
  • Feeling guilty or worthless
  • Difficulty thinking, focusing, or concentrating
  • Repeated thoughts of death or suicide: call your doctor or 911 immediately

Reasons you may feel depressed

Feeling blue is not uncommon, but it’s important to know that you may be at risk of depression if you are:

  • Grieving the loss of a loved one
  • Losing a sense of independence because you need a caregiver or a health care facility
  • Retiring and feeling a loss of purpose or professional identity
  • Feeling unwell due to pain, illness, injury, and other conditions
  • Under stress mentally, physically, or financially
  • Taking certain medications
  • Misusing alcohol or prescription drugs

When to get help

Call your doctor if you feel any of the following for 2 weeks or more:

  • Sad, blue, or down
  • Tired, slow, or lacking energy
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in life

Treatment

Your doctor may recommend that you:

  • Stick to a routine of daily activities. Decreased activity and changes in routines may make depression worse.
  • Exercise regularly, do things you enjoy, and limit alcohol. For mild symptoms, this might be all it takes to help you feel better.
  • Use relaxation techniques like meditation and deep breathing. These may help reduce stress levels.
  • Seek counseling. A mental health professional can help you identify and address underlying problems.
  • Take medication and/or cognitive behavior therapy.

More information
For more about depression, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.

Senior woman talking to her friend outside