What Is Depression?
There are times in life when you’ll feel sad. These emotions
usually only last a few hours or days. It’s when you feel down or upset for
long periods of time, and when those feelings are very strong that these
feelings are considered depression.
Depression is a serious mental disorder that can interfere
with your daily life. It can make it hard for you to carry out your daily
activities and find pleasure in the activities you once enjoyed.
Many people experience depression. In fact, it’s one of the
most common mental disorders in the United States, according to the National
Institute of Mental Health (NIH).
According to a study by the Substance
Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 6 percent
of American adults experienced at least one episode of depression each year of
the decade beginning in 2005.
Depression usually first occurs in early adulthood, but it’s
also common among older adults, according to the NIH.
Studies by the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)estimate that 7 million American adults over the
age of 65 experience depression each year. The CDC
also reports that adults over the age of 65 made up 16 percent of all
suicide deaths in 2004.
What Are the Symptoms?
Depression is especially common in people with other medical
problems. Older adults may have more medical issues, which can increase their
risk of depression. Even though depression is common in seniors, it’s not a
normal part of getting older. Some older adults may not think they’re depressed
because sadness is not their major symptom.
The symptoms of depression vary from person to person. In
seniors, some of the most common symptoms include:
sadness or “emptiness”
hopeless, cranky, nervous, or guilty for no reason
lack of enjoyment in favorite pastimes
- loss of
concentration or memory
- either insomnia
or too much sleep
too much or eating too little
thoughts or attempts
What Are the Causes?
Experts don’t know exactly what causes depression. Several
factors may be involved, such as genetics, stress, and brain chemistry.
Having a family member who has
experienced depression puts you at a higher risk of developing depression.
Stressful incidents such as a
death in the family, a challenging relationship, or problems at work can
The concentration of certain
chemicals in the brain may contribute to development of a depressive disorder
in some people.
Depression often occurs alongside other medical conditions
in older adults. Depression can even worsen these conditions. Some medications
for these medical issues can cause side effects that may affect your depression.
How Is Depression Diagnosed?
Tests and Examinations
Your doctor may run several types of tests and examinations
if they suspect you are experiencing depression.
Your doctor will perform a
physical examination and ask you questions about your health. For some people,
depression may be connected to an existing medical condition.
Your doctor may order blood tests
to measure different values in your blood to check for existing medical
conditions that may be triggering your depression.
Your doctor will ask you about
your symptoms, thoughts, emotions, and daily habits. They may ask you to fill
out a questionnaire to answer these questions.
Types of Depression
There are several types of depressive disorders. Each type has
its own diagnostic criteria.
Major Depressive Disorder
A major depressive disorder is characterized by severely
depressed mood or loss of interest in daily activities that interferes with
daily life for at least two weeks
Persistent Depressive Disorder
Persistent depressive disorder is a depressed mood
lasting for at least two years.
Bipolar disorder is characterized by cycling mood
changes from extreme highs to extreme lows.
How Is Depression Treated?
There are varying treatments for depression. Most often,
people are treated with a combination of medication and psychotherapy.
There are a variety of medications commonly prescribed for
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
- fluoxetine (Prozac)
- sertraline (Zoloft)
- escitalopram (Lexapro)
- paroxetine (Paxil)
- citalopram (Celexa)
- venlafaxine (Effexor)
- duloxetine (Cymbalta)
- bupropion (Wellbutrin)
- isocarboxazid (Marplan)
- phenelzine (Nardil)
- selegiline (Emsam)
- tranylcypromine (Parnate)
Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors
Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)
Antidepressants can take a few weeks to work, so it’s
important to take them as directed even if you can’t feel any improvement right
away. These medications can cause side effects including:
- upset stomach
- sexual issues
These side effects usually go away over time, but it’s
important to talk to your doctor about them right away.
Attending therapy sessions helps many people with
depression. Therapy helps by teaching you new ways to think and act. You may
also learn ways to change any habits that may be contributing to your
depression. Therapy can help you better understand and get through challenging
situations that may be triggering or worsening your depression.
Electroconvulsive therapy is
usually used only to treat severe cases of depression. It works by sending mild
electric shocks to the brain to change how chemicals in the brain work. It can
cause some side effects, including confusion and memory loss. These side
effects rarely last for a long time.
How Can You Help Someone with Depression?
Help your loved one get to a doctor if you suspect they have
depression. The doctor can diagnose the condition and prescribe treatment. You
can also help in the following ways.
Talk with your loved one regularly,
and listen carefully. Give advice if they ask. Take what they say seriously.
Never ignore a suicide threat or comments about suicide
Offer support. Be encouraging,
patient, and understanding.
Be a friend. Regularly invite them
to come and spend time with you.
Keep reminding your loved one
that, with time and treatment, their depression will lessen.
You should always report suicidal talk to your loved one’s
doctor, and, if necessary, take them to a hospital for psychiatric help.