Recognizing the Early Signs of Depression

Recognizing the Early Signs of Depression

Recognizing the Early Signs of Depression

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We all deal with feelings of sadness from time to time. Grief over the loss of a loved one. A painful breakup. Struggles with health issues. They are just a few of the events that can affect us emotionally and physically.

So, what's the difference between being “feeling a little down” and depressed?

The National Institute of Mental Health, leaving site icon defines depression as a common, but serious mood disorder. It affects the way a person feels, thinks and handles daily activities, such as sleeping, eating and working. It often goes unrecognized in older adults because “sadness is not their main symptom.”

Looking Beyond Sadness

Still, people are unique. Many other symptoms may be present. Someone who is depressed may feel:

  • Anxious or irritable
  • Guilty or hopeless
  • Disinterested in favorite activities
  • Unable to focus or remember things
  • Tired all the time
  • Suicidal
Recognizing Health Causes

It’s important to understand that depression is not a normal part of aging. It can, though, be related to physical changes that take place as a person ages.

Some older adults have partially blocked arteries. They restrict blood flow through the body and to the brain. Known as “vascular depression,” it can leave a person at risk for heart disease and stroke.

Depression can also be linked to:

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

Because depression is hard to recognize, getting help isn’t always easy. Some people find it difficult to let family members or their doctor know they are struggling. Other health issues can also mask the signs of depression.

If you think you may be depressed:

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

Depression is often treated with medicine, therapy or both. Therapy can help you understand depression is not your fault. It can also help you learn new ways of thinking and problem solving.

Along the way, remember to treat yourself with kindness. Find small activities you enjoy. Just as importantly, avoid major decisions until you’re feeling better.

Understanding Antidepressants

There are different treatments for depression. Antidepressants target brain chemistry to help regulate moods. Your doctor may prescribe one based on your medical history and symptoms.

When you talk with your doctor, be sure to:

  • Provide any family history of depression or mental illness
  • Share information about alcohol and drug use

When you start taking your medicine, ask your doctor how long it might take to begin working. Some antidepressants are effective in three to four weeks. Others may need two to three months. Follow all instructions, and ask your doctor if you may feel any side effects.

Always talk with your doctor before you stop taking any medication. If you stop taking it 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 people often try different medications before finding relief.

Source: Older Adults and Depression, leaving site icon  National Institute of Mental Health, 2023
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Originally published 10/26/2016; Revised 2019, 2021, 2023