With one in six Australians experiencing depression or anxiety, or both, at some point in their lives, it is very likely that we will all either experience a mental health condition personally or know someone who does.
In light of this, what should every Australian aged over 60 look out for and what can they do to decrease the risks of experiencing a mental health condition?
Understand the symptoms
A person may be depressed if, for more than two weeks, he or she has felt sad, down or miserable most of the time or has lost interest or pleasure in usual activities.
The person might not go out as much or stop altogether, find it difficult to concentrate and withdraw from close family and friends. Feelings of irritability, frustration, low confidence and sadness may be prevalent and negative thoughts can dominate. In addition, depression can manifest in physical symptoms, such as significant weight loss or gain, headaches and muscle pains, tiredness and sleep issues.
Anxiety is more than just feeling stressed or worried. While stress and anxious feelings are a common response to a situation where a person feels under pressure, it usually passes once the stressful situation has passed, or ‘stressor’ is removed.
Anxiety is when these anxious feelings don’t subside. Anxiety is when they are ongoing and exist without any particular reason or cause. It’s a serious condition that makes it hard for a person to cope with daily life. We all feel anxious from time to time, but for a person experiencing anxiety, these feelings cannot be easily controlled.
Symptoms of anxiety can include hot and cold flushes, racing heart, snowballing worries and obsessive thinking and compulsive behaviour. Sometimes, they are not all that obvious as they can develop gradually and, given that we all experience some anxiety at some points in time, it can be hard to know how much is too much.
How should we talk about it?
beyondblue recently launched a new national initiative called ‘Have the Conversation’ to guide Australians on how to approach someone they think may be struggling with depression or anxiety, and how to talk to someone about how you are feeling.
The new free resources includes a website, handy tips and videos of people talking about how to approach a friend or family member you may be concerned about.
Insensitive remarks, ignoring a person, or telling them to ‘cheer up’ is very unhelpful to a person experiencing depression or anxiety, but people often don’t know what to say to someone they are worried about. We are often frightened of saying the wrong thing.
‘Have the Conversation’ (beyondblue.org.au/conversations) has videos and factsheets and offers practical guidance, with tips on how to reach out for help or to someone you think may be struggling.
What you can do.
Find ways to reduce and manage stress in your daily life
- Learn to relax. To do this, you need to allocate time to do the things you enjoy, such as exercising, meditating, reading, gardening or listening to music.
- Learn to say ‘no’. Create a balance between work and the things you enjoy doing. Don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed by new commitments.
- Learn how to let people know about your feelings so that you can resolve personal conflicts as they come up. Talking to a counsellor or psychologist can help you find ways to address your problems.
- Take control of your work by avoiding long hours and additional responsibilities. This can be difficult, but small changes can make a difference.
- Include short-term coping strategies in your day, such as breathing and relaxation exercises.
Eating well and staying active
- Eating healthily, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep and avoiding harmful levels of alcohol and other drugs can help a person to manage the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- Learn to prepare simple meals that don’t take too much time or energy to prepare. If you live on your own and aren’t eating proper meals, consider using frozen or home-delivered dishes.
- Physical exercise such as walking, swimming, dancing, playing golf or going to the gym can help relieve the tension in your muscles, relax your mind and distract you from negative thoughts and worries. Try to do some physical exercise every day, even if it’s just going for a walk. Keep it simple and enjoyable.
- Participate in activities with family members and close friends, and accept social invitations, even though it’s the last thing you may feel like doing. Keeping connected with people helps increase levels of wellbeing, confidence and opportunities to participate in activities.
Try to get a good night’s sleep
- Depression and anxiety can disrupt sleep patterns. It’s essential to try to restore a regular sleep pattern to make a full recovery.
Recognising triggers and warning signs
- There are some situations or events that can bring on an episode of depression and/or anxiety. These situations or events are referred to as ‘triggers’. Common triggers include family and relationship problems, financial difficulties, changes in living arrangements, changing jobs or losing a job, having other health problems and using alcohol and other drugs.
- Warning signs are signals that a person may be feeling depressed or anxious and it’s a good idea to learn how to recognise some of the signs, like getting up later, finding it hard to concentrate, having disturbed sleep, feeling irritable or stressed and withdrawing socially.
Reach out to family and friends if you feel comfortable to, or talk to your GP. Your doctor can help you to find other support options or create a mental health plan with you.
You can also visit beyondblue’s online forums where people share their experiences of anxiety and depression with each other.
Resources and information specifically tailored for sections of the Australian public are available on the beyondblue website.
This article has been sponsored by beyondblue. It was written as we feel it provides the Starts at 60 community with valuable insight into a highly important topic. To find out more about the work that beyondblue does and to learn more about depression, anxiety and maintaining good mental health as you get older, click here.