Are You Experiencing “the Blues” or is it Depression?

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May is Mental Health Awareness month, and we’re going to shine a spotlight on how aging impacts your mental health. The positive news is that the majority of older adults are not depressed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, while depression is a real medical condition and not a normal part of aging, older adults are at an increased risk for experiencing depression.

It is important to understand the difference between depression and simply having the doldrums. Depression is more than having ‘the blues’ or what a person experiences when they are grieving the loss of a loved one. It is an actual medical condition that is treatable, like diabetes or hypertension, according to the CDC. And depression is more common in people who have other illnesses, such as heart disease or cancer or whose function becomes limited; those health issues may cause seniors to lead more isolated lives, resulting in loneliness, a common symptom of depression.

But seniors can also experience depression even if they’re in good physical health and not isolated. Sometimes, for no apparent reason, they may begin to feel inexplicably down even though nothing has changed in their life externally; they still have friends and can exercise, but their desire to socialize or participate in that pickleball tournament has greatly diminished.

When that happens for an extended period of time, two weeks or longer, then it’s probably time to visit a mental health professional. If possible, visit a mental health professional who specializes in seniors.

If you (or a loved one) have been feeling down but are not sure if it’s just ‘the blues’ or actual depression, review the list below. According to the CDC, a person who is depressed has feelings of sadness or anxiety that last for several weeks at a time. They may also experience the following:

  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
  • Insomnia, early–morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
  • Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not get better, even with treatment 

If you feel you may be depressed, don’t give up hope because there are treatments available. They may include talk therapy with a mental health professional, antidepressant medication, or a combination of both. To know what’s best for you, again, seek out a mental health professional. And please note, if you are prescribed an antidepressant and it doesn’t work (you typically need to give it at least a month – your physician will let you know), don’t lose hope. It may take a bit of trial and error to find the right medication. And please note that it is extremely important to always keep your doctor informed about what is going on and never take yourself off of your medication without consulting your physician first. The good news is that the majority of seniors will see an improvement in their symptoms when treated with antidepressant medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both, according to the CDC.

But most importantly, if you or a loved one is in crisis and at risk of harming themselves, then seek help immediately:

  •      Call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988
  •      Call 911
  •      Visit a nearby emergency department or your health care provider’s office

This information is for educational purposes. Please consult your physician regarding any medical issues. The Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) is committed to bringing trusted and quality home health, private care and hospice to Indian River County patients. For more information about VNA services, call 772-567-5551 or visit www.vnatc.com.

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