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Depressed? Don't give up on treatment

Created date

March 26th, 2013
Depressed? Don't give up on treatment

Emotional health is vitally important to our well-being. As a society, we tend to primarily focus on the physical component, but in reality, it is our mood that sets the tone for our days. Seniors in general enjoy remarkably good mental health and are among the happiest age groups in our society. This may seem counter-intuitive in our youth-centric culture, but seniors in spite of experiencing loss of health and loved ones, typically adjust remarkably well and are less stressed and consistently happier than their baby boomer children.

Even with this resiliency, however, approximately 15% of seniors still suffer from low mood or depression on a regular basis. Depression, just like high blood pressure or osteoporosis, is a condition which can impact your health well beyond the debilitating effects of suffering emotionally. Individuals with depression are at higher risk of medical complications than their emotionally healthy peers. This is particularly true among seniors who often have other chronic conditions such as diabetes or heart disease. Study after study demonstrates the increased risk of heart attack, stroke, dementia, and, yes, even death that is associated with depression.

The classic symptoms of depression are many and include a loss of interest, decreased sense of pleasure, weight change, appetite change, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, sleep problems, feelings of worthlessness, and thoughts of injuring yourself or suicide. Research also shows that some seniors do not experience typical signs of depression; rather, they may feel anxious, have cloudy thinking, feel uncomfortable in social situations, or simply attribute their problems to another physical cause.

Two simple questions

Clearly, depression can present in many ways, but we often use two simple questions to screen for its presence: Do you have little interest or pleasure in doing things? Do you feel down, hopeless, or depressed? While just a screening tool, I urge you to discuss your feelings with your medical provider if your answer to either question is yes.

Even if you feel that there is a reason for your low mood such as a new illness or a recent loss, you should still discuss it with your provider. Please do not avoid discussion or decline treatment of this serious condition because it is “emotional” rather than “physical.”

The good news is that there is effective treatment for depression and most people benefit from counseling, medication, or a combination of both. Significant improvement in your symptoms often occurs within a few weeks and even cognitive complications can often be reversed with prompt treatment. Once you feel better, continue with your treatment and discuss next steps with your counselor or medical provider. It is often important to taper medicine gradually or reduce therapy sessions rather than stop them entirely to avoid relapse.

Remember, if you’re feeling down or hopeless, talk to your regular doctor or a health professional you trust. You can feel better and enjoy life again.

In good health,

Dr. Narrett