Recognizing the Early Signs of Depression

The first thing to understand about depression is that it is not a normal part of aging. Everyone, of course, has days or periods where they feel sad or blue, but that’s not depression.

 So what is it? According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is a common but serious mood disorder, causing severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating or working. To be diagnosed with depression, the symptoms must be present for at least two weeks.

It’s also important to understand that depression can often go unrecognized because for some older adults, sadness is not the main symptom of their depression. People are unique, and many symptoms of depression may be present, like:

  • Feeling anxious or irritable, guilty or hopeless
  • A loss of interest in favorite hobbies or activities
  • Not being able to concentrate or remember details
  • Feeling chronically tired
  • Sleeping or eating too much or too little
  • Thoughts of suicide

While depression is not a normal part of again, it can be related to physical changes that take place as a person ages.

For instance, some older adults have partially blocked arteries that restrict the flow of blood through the body, including the brain. The result is known as “vascular depression” which can leave a person at risk for heart disease and stroke.

In addition, depression can also accompany other conditions and life situations such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Prescription drugs or supplements
  • Stress
  • Loneliness

Getting help for depression

For many reasons, seeking help for depression is not always easy. For one thing, it can be hard for a person to admit that they’re struggling with depressive feelings. Another reason is that depression is often unnoticed if the person has other health issues.

If you think you may be depressed, you should:

  1. Talk with your doctor.
  2. Explain how you’re feeling.
  3. Share how long you’ve been feeling that way.
  4. Answer your doctor’s questions honestly.

Much of the time, depression is treated through medications or talk therapy or a combination of both. One of the benefits of talking to a therapist is gaining greater insight into your needs and learning new ways to manage your feelings.

Along the way, don’t forget to treat yourself with kindness by finding small activities you enjoy. Just as importantly, don’t make major decisions until you’re feeling better.

Understanding Antidepressants

Once you’ve taken the step to talk with your doctor about depression, make sure you’re open about these points:

  • Provide any family history of depression or mental illness
  • Share any other information, such as alcohol and drug use

There are different treatments for depression and the prescriptions work on brain chemistry that helps regulate moods. Based on your medical history and symptoms, your doctor may choose one to prescribe.

When you start taking antidepressants, talk with your doctor about how long it might take them to begin working. Some antidepressants are effective in 3 to 4 weeks, while others may need 2 to 3 months before they begin to work. Follow all instructions for taking the medications, and ask your doctor if you can expect any side effects.

At the other end of the process, make sure you talk with your doctor before you stop taking medication. With some medications, if you stop taking them suddenly, you could experience side effects or your condition could worsen. Finally, if medication doesn’t work the first time, talk with your doctor. Research shows that people often try different medications before finding relief.1,2

1. Rush JA, Trivedi MH, Wisniewski SR, Stewart JW, Nierenberg AA, Thase ME, Ritz L, Biggs MM, Warden D, Luther JF, Shores-Wilson K, Niederehe G, Fava M. Bupropion-SR, Sertraline, or Venlafaxine-XR after failure of SSRIs for depression. New England Journal of Medicine, 2006 Mar 23; 354(12):1231–1242. 

Most recent update: 4/5/2018

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