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:
- Deaths of loved ones
- Medical problems
- Fears of dying, loss
Signs and symptoms of depression in older adults:
- 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
- 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.