By Dr. Chris Votolato, Director of Behavioral Health at Shell Point Retirement
Community in Fort Myers, Florida, depression is generally believed to be the most common emotional challenge of the elderly and is often referred to as the “common cold” of mental health. Self-rating scales suggest that 15-20 percent of those over the age of 65 and living independently report depressive symptoms – as many as six million people in the United States. Additionally, a recent study suggested that 50 percent of patients in primary care practices who had depressive symptoms are undiagnosed.
Depression can be associated with increased life stress and daily hassles (for example, being a caregiver for long periods of time, decreased frequency of social contacts, poor self-esteem, decreased comfort in interpersonal events, and diminished enjoyment of pleasant activities). Additionally, there is a clear association between pain, physical illness and depression, with increased severity of illness and pain contributing to increased severity of depression. Medical conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, stroke, and cardiovascular disease/treatment also contribute to depression. Although we are often very resilient following loss, as many as 25 percent of the elderly experience clinical depression during the first year of bereavement.
Symptoms of depression vary from person to person, but often include changes in emotion (sadness, guilt, anxiety), behavior (withdrawal from others, tearfulness), physiology (changes in sleep, changes in appetite, fatigue), and thought patterns (e.g., loss of pleasure, feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness). In some cases, a person may not “feel” depressed but the depression is manifested by other symptoms.
What can you do? First, you may wish to discuss these feelings with your primary care physician or call for a consultation with a behavioral healthcare specialist. Depression is a manageable bump in the road of life. Simple interventions and/or medication strategies can overcome most episodes of depression. Take the first step by reaching out for help today.