When the black dog comes for you at 60

We’ve talked about depression many times on Starts at 60, and every time we have, it has garnered hundreds of

We’ve talked about depression many times on Starts at 60, and every time we have, it has garnered hundreds of comments. And it’s really no surprise: 1 in 6 Australians will suffer from depression in their life. It has no doubt touched all of our lives in some way, but there are a large number of over 60s who right now are suffering severe depression.

In this article, we had many comments about how depression had changed peoples’ lives, with one commenter Sandra saying, “I dismissed the feelings of wanting to end it all, I knew I couldn’t do that to my children! And then a cousin came to visit, and rather harshly said, “Get out of bed, You have kids to see to, I can’t keep coming down”. Although I retorted, “I didn’t ask you to” something must have resonated, because I just put one foot in front of the other after that. I don’t have the answers, because w e are all different, and deal with things differently”.

In another article, another commenter, Jeannie, said, “Professionals, family and friends help and fellow sufferers groups also to share help immensely. Without judgement, there needs to be more knowledge in the community. I class in my own mental illness as an emotional illness. I seek help if need to, also I did not for years because I thought it was just me”.

This week, a reader shared her story with us, and asked not to be named. “Right now, my three children are all in different locations either around Australia or the world. I’m beside myself… I want to see them all but they won’t speak to me. I have lost my purpose, my reason to live. I had no idea I was deeply depressed until a wake up call at Christmas time when I was dragged out of my mother-in-law’s house, screaming and crying. My husband promptly organised an appointment with a professional and before I knew it, I was in a chair, denying it all. It was hard at first – I’d never been in a psychiatrist’s chair before let alone ever had a mental illness, but as the layers unravelled, I realised I’d had one for years. I was in the throes of a severe depression. I had no purpose, I haven’t worked for over 10 years and am in my early 60s. I have no idea what I’m going to do but I’m getting there, each day…”

So are over 60s really that much more susceptible to depression? Absolutely, yes.

Depression is so common in older people, however you may not realise its prevalence as there is a stigma attached to depression and mental illness that has carried across our generations. Many of us remember it was something our parents and grandparents would never speak about, despite seeing things in the war that deeply disturbed them.

According to Beyond Blue, older people are also more hesitant to share their experiences of depression with others, often ignoring symptoms over long periods of time and only seeking professional help when things reach crisis point.

Why are over 60s depressed?

There are many reasons why over 60s can become depressed:

  • Retirement
  • Deaths of loved ones
  • Loneliness
  • Medical problems
  • Fears of dying, loss

Signs and symptoms of depression in older adults:

  • Sadness
  • Fatigue
  • Abandoning or losing interest in hobbies or other pleasurable pastimes
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Sleep disturbances (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, oversleeping, or daytime sleepiness)
  • Loss of self-worth (worries about being a burden, feelings of worthlessness, self-loathing)
  • Increased use of alcohol or other drugs
  • Fixation on death; suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • Anxiety and worries
  • Memory problems
  • Lack of motivation and energy
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest in socialising and hobbies
  • Neglecting personal care (skipping meals, forgetting meds, neglecting personal hygiene)

Medical conditions can cause depression in older adults

This can be as a result of the condition, or a psychological reaction to the illness. Any chronic medical condition, particularly if it is painful, disabling, or life-threatening, can lead to depression or make depression symptoms worse, such as Parkinson’s, heart disease, diabetes and thyroid conditions.

Medications can also cause or worsen depression, so if you are feeling more down when you are medicated, see your doctor.

Remember: depression isn’t a sign of weakness, and it can happen to anyone, at any age, no matter your background or your successes in life. Whether you’re 18 or 80, you don’t have to live with depression. It can be treated, and with the right support, treatment, and self-help strategies you can feel better and live a happy life once again.

If you are feeling depressed or need someone to talk to, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Share your thoughts and stories below.


  1. Sue  

    Yes it’s bad in our age. I got that bad I couldn’t drive. Was scary.went to doctors- told suffering nervous breakdown . I had lots more with me. Now anything my husband does wrong I just cry and take it bad. Sometimes just stay in bedroom all weekend . Am seeking help now. Others don’t understand.

  2. I managed to drag myself through the 60’s but at 72 was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I really hit a crises, and my kids took it in turns to baby sit me for two weeks, when they said enough is enough and took me off to hospital, where I was promptly put under the Mental Health team. Reasons? There can be many, or often no reason at all, but as the article says, usually the reasons listed. I had feelings of not being worth much, I had dropped my hobbies, loss in of my husband, (7 1/2 years), not in useful gainful employment any more, moved into a smaller place no gardens or lawns, I was allowing myself to become socially isolated, all those things. Now on medication, and heading off to Australia to visit two of my kids for a few months, I realised that I am worth something especially to my kids, ( look at the time they took to look after silly old mum) and trying to get back into hobbies etc… Life is worth living, after all…..

  3. Sue  

    If employment is no longer an option try volunteering. Volunteering will give you a wonderful new interest and you get to meet lots of new people who are generally in the same boat as you. Giving of your time to help others helps you more than them in a lot of cases. Go on give it a go you won’t be sorry. Have a great day

  4. Graham Wilson  

    Have suffered this most of my life. I tried therapy and medication but could not kick it. Eventually I found the correct medication and doses and although it still comes, it is not anywhere near as bad as it used to be. If one medication doesn’t work, with your doctors advise, try others until you find what helps.

    Don’t forget that medication can take some time to take full effect and DO NOT go off medication without talking to your doctor first.

  5. Liz Grant  

    Both my husband and I went through a “breakdown” 15 months ago and are still struggling. His health is very poor and I’m caring for him when I feel I need care because I am so depressed. We both worked in helping professions and ran out of “give” and, sorry Sue, volunteering is the last thing I want to do. I just want some semblance of normal life back. I have no motivation, very little energy and it takes very little pressure to send me back into my hole again. I feel as if I have lost myself. I must admit it was encouraging to read that other people are in a similar situation – severe depression and anxiety are very isolating diseases and difficult for others to understand. I am getting help and am very grateful for that help, but can’t yet see the light at the end of the tunnel.

  6. Lynne Highfield  

    This is a subject that interests me greatly as I’ve lived with depression and anxiety for many years. The anxiety led to panic attacks which then led to agoraphobia and I became isolated and insular for years. To add to my ongoing misery, I ended up in ICU with Diabetic Ketoacidosis having been misdiagnosed as a Type 2 diabetic instead of Type 1. The depression was a blessing in disguise though as through it and because of it, I researched all I could on the medical and emotional effects of dying and death. You’d think this would have just depressed me further but, strangely, it had the opposite effect because I, for the first time, reflected and accepted that I WAS going to die sometime. Since very few of us want to think of our demise and, if we do, are accused of being “morbid”, this whole subject remains hovering over us like a black cloud and disguises itself in our day to day lives.. By facing and accepting it WILL happen has a freeing affect which, in turn, replaces the fear with a newfound enjoyment of the freedom we hadn’t had previously. In short, by facing and accepting, we are more able to appreciate life.

    • Esther  

      Panic attacks are a complete mystery to me. I have no control when they come and why they come. I take medication because if I stop, I’ll wind up in the ER not being able to breathe. The doctor will give me IV Ativan, discharge me until the next time. I find age brings fear and loneliness. Maybe I fear death, but more than that, I fear one of my children or grandchildren will die before me. I am afraid of unbearable pain.

  7. Jeannette  

    Having suffered depression for years over 60 and constantly thought of suicide – spent so many weekends and days in bed have lost count– was on anti depressants for years- and in the end found a fantastic church made lot’s of lovely friends as i was so so lonely – started to help in the church- and help others in other areas – and my whole life turned around – now off antidepressants and enjoying each day– the more we take the focus off ourselves and onto someone else the happier we will be. Church nay not be for you but there is many many other organisations you can volunteer in– and your life would be so much richer and happier in time. Give it a try – and good luck .

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