Today I want to talk about something we don’t often discuss.
It’s not so much that the topic is taboo – but our understanding of it has changed in recent years.
I’m talking about depression. And specifically, depression in older people.
Maybe you’ve also noticed that when it comes to depression, we shine a lot of the spotlight on our youth. This can leave a whole lot of us out in the cold.
Here’s a fact that shocked me: the age group most at risk for major depression is 45-65.
So, the age when we are supposed to “have it all figured out” is actually the biggest danger zone for depression.
A new Dutch study found that elderly people battling major depression may face longer and more severe symptoms than young people with the same type of depression.
Does this mean depression just hits harder when we are older? Or is there something else going on?
The study found that elderly participants lingered in depression much longer than young folks. They were also much slower to see significant improvement.
There could be a number of reasons for this…
We do know that our seniors face high levels of loneliness and more general health challenges, including a more sedentary lifestyle. These are all risk factors for depression.
But here’s the real kicker… even after researchers accounted for these risk factors, depression was still hitting older people much harder than our youth.
The brain might have something to do with this disturbing statistic.
As we age, our brains become less “elastic” and are slower to respond to change. Brain chemistry does change, but like our bodies our brains react more slowly to input and adjustments.
And then there are those risk factors I mentioned.
I think we don’t talk enough about depression in older people, however. And I’m not alone. Experts are saying the same thing.
If you think about it, depression is probably much more easily recognized in a younger person.
If someone in their twenties suddenly stops doing the things they love, it sends up an immediate red flag. But in an older person we might shrug it off as decreased mobility or a simple loss in interest.
I also think young people are encouraged to talk more about the way they feel, including their depression.
We have a kind of “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” attitude around aging. With so many of us afraid of growing older and losing our quality of life, who would want to talk to Aunt Mary about her mental health?
Our elderly population also carries some shame around “being a burden” or needing too much. We are taught to be individuals from the minute we are born, but at what cost?
I’m all about self-reliance. But is the emphasis on self-reliance contributing to problems like major depression going unnoticed and untreated for seniors?
If it is, it needs to change.
So let’s talk about it – with each other and with our elderly family members and friends.
Call them up. Ask them how they are doing. Not a casual, “How’s your day, John?” but really ask.
How are you feeling?
Do you want to talk?
I care about you and I’m here if you need anything at all.
Valuing our senior’s mental health means that we also value our own, no matter our age. By helping them take steps to prevent and treat depression, we arm ourselves with the same knowledge.
With 1 in 5 adults up against at least one episode with major depression in their life, this isn’t a problem we can just ignore.