The importance of getting screened for depression this fall
While some embrace the change of seasons and the excuse to withdraw inside, others may fear the gloomy Pacific Northwest winter and the changes in mood that come with it.
It’s especially important this time of year to recognize the signs of depression in yourself or the ones you care for, and to get help for it.
Depression affects 6 million American over the age of 65, and only 10 percent receive treatment for the disease. Learn how to recognize the signs and how to get help when the inner skies become as grey as the outer ones.
Risk factors and signs of depression
Those over 65 have to adjust to all the life changes that come with getting older, such as losing loved ones, illness and other stressful life events. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), it’s normal to feel uneasy, sad or stressed about these changes.
Depression differs in that it becomes difficult for people to function on a daily basis. As the NIMH points out, depression is not a normal part of aging, or a sign of weakness. People usually need treatment to feel better.
Family members and doctors may miss the signs of depression and attribute it to the changes that are “normal” in later life, such as sadness over a friend passing away.
Certain people are at higher risk than others. Some risk factors include:
- Being female
- A loss of family and friends
- Being single, divorced or widowed
- Chronic physical illness
- Social isolation
Some common symptoms of depression according to Mental Health America include:
- Loss of interest in activities
- Lack of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Difficulties concentrating or making decisions
During the coronavirus pandemic, these risk factors for depression in seniors can be heightened because of further isolation and the stress of being part of a high risk category.
Though it’s not all bad news- a recent study showed that seniors with existing depression showed resilience during the pandemic, and no increase in depression or anxiety during this period. The study found that having to deal with chronic depression made participants stronger during the global pandemic.
How to get screened for depression
There are still safe ways to interact with your doctor without putting your health at risk. SeaCare has highlighted the benefits of telemedicine, which are easy to see at a time when staying at home is the safest thing to do.
You can get a screening from a primary care doctor during a wellness check or a routine follow-up. The doctor may refer you to a mental health professional, such as a psychologist, counselor or psychiatrist if they suspect depression may be the case.
Doing research before your appointment can help put depression into context. Sometimes, having the right words to describe an ongoing feeling can make you feel like you’re not alone, because other people have also experienced them.
Mental Health America has a useful guide on noticing the signs of depression, and describing what it can feel like. This could help identify what you or your loved one have been going through and set you on a path to get help.
MHA also has a screening you can take online. This can be used as a tool before talking to a healthcare provider. It takes less than 5 minutes to complete and gives you a rating based on symptoms of depression.
The website also has a host of great resources at the bottom, including answers to common questions, such as how to get therapy for those who can’t afford the typical rates of a therapist, and a guide on how to manage your emotions.
Depression and caregiving
According to the Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA), “depression is a normal response to a difficult situation.” Caregivers can develop mild or severe forms of depression while trying to meet all the demands of caring for a loved one.
In an article about depression among caregivers, the FCA points out that people caring for a family member or loved one with dementia have twice the rates of depression as other caregivers.
SeaCare has specific dementia and Alzheimer's education opportunities available to our caregivers so that they’re more equipped for the special challenges of caring for someone with dementia.
Women experience higher rates of depression than men, and they represent the majority of caregivers. They also have a hard time taking action to treat it. The FCA cited a study by Mental Health America that attributed embarrassment over having depression as a barrier to receiving help for it.
A lack of sleep can contribute to depression. This can be a hard thing for caregivers to get enough of, especially for ones juggling full-time jobs and families along with caregiving responsibility. Hiring part-time care can make a big difference in this aspect of personal health.
There are a lot of helpful resources available to those experiencing depression, whether you're a caregiver or caring for someone with the disorder. Remember, depression is treatable, and getting screened for it is the first step on the path to feeling better.