Depression in the Elderly: Causes and Problems

Depression is a symptom and a state of mind. It is something that can affect anyone at any time and something that everyone will experience in their life, whether through the loss of a job, the breakdown of a relationship, or a bereavement. In seniors, it can be particularly problematic.

Why Depression in the Elderly is a Huge Problem

In the last few decades, the world has become much more tolerant and understanding about mental illness. The average Millennial is more likely to open up about their feelings and their problems than their parents and grandparents were at the same age. 

Younger generations are even more understanding, while Gen X and Gen Z, though initially reserved, are increasingly embracing the changes.

However, Baby Boomers and those in the Silent Generation have been left behind somewhat. They spent their childhoods and their adult lives in a world that didn’t understand mental illness, and rather shockingly, considered depression to be a weakness. 

They didn’t talk about their feelings, and this attitude became ingrained in their minds.

The problem is, depression doesn’t go away and for many, the risk increases with age. As a result, we have entire generations of people who are struggling with depression and are reluctant, unwilling, and even scared to get help, lest they be pitied or viewed negatively by their peers.

And this is just part of the problem.

Age begets experience and wisdom, but it also increases the risk of trauma. The older you are, the more likely you are to have lost loved ones and to have witnessed traumatic events. 

Many seniors find themselves living alone after the slow decline and eventual death of a spouse. They are lonely, depressed, and because they devoted their lives to their loved ones, they don’t have many people to turn to. 

They put on a happy face around their children and their remaining friends, but when everyone leaves, they return to their depression and their solitude.

Depression can also be a side effect of medications and mobility problems, and the older you are, the more likely you are to be medicated and have physical ailments.

All things considered, it’s no wonder that depression is so common in elderly individuals. When you account for the many people who are hiding their issues from loved ones and doctors, it’s likely to be a bigger issue than anyone realizes.

Depression Without a Cause

Depression doesn’t need a cause. The idea that someone “shouldn’t” be depressed because they have everything going for them is ridiculous, and thankfully, people are finally realizing just how wrong it is.

Someone can be depressed for reasons that you can’t see. They can be depressed because of a clinical issue, in which case the depression can be crippling and debilitating, even while everything seems to be going right for them.

Last but not least, depression can result from simple lifestyle changes. For instance, if you don’t get enough sleep, you become more exposed to depression and anxiety. A bad diet and even chronic constipation can also impact your mood.

Everything is connected. When you sleep well and eat well, you’re more energized. You feel better in yourself and are happier as a result. When you take those things away, you become lethargic, fatigued, slow—you start focusing on the negatives and you don’t have the strength to brush those thoughts away.

Causes of Depression by Age

It’s easy to see depression as an illness of middle-age, something that strikes when your career takes a downturn, your love life deteriorates, and money problems keep you awake at night. The truth is, depression can occur at all ages. 

A small number of cases are caused by trauma or clinical depression, which means they are not related to anything in the individual’s life. Other times, it is directly related to incidents in a person’s life, including:

  • Children: Depression is very rare in children and if your child is suffering from frequent bouts of depression, it’s likely there will be an underlying clinical cause, such as bipolar disorder or a personality disorder. However, children can also feel mild to moderate depression as a result of problems at school or at home. It could be a sign that they are being bullied by peers or abused by family members, for instance.
  • Teenagers: While 99% of grandparents and parents would disagree, teens don’t have it easy. They are not old enough to be adults and not young enough to be children. They are going through a lot of changes and have a lot of things to worry and stress about. Depression can result from bullying, peer pressure, concerns about education or sexuality, and home life.
  • Young Adults: Many young adults get depressed because they worry about the direction that their life is taking. They may stress about the decisions they have made and worry they have messed everything up.
  • Ages 30 to 55: At this age range, depression is at its most common. Adults are generally more financially secure but may also have a lot of debt to worry about, as well as children to raise and careers to maintain. They have lost the invulnerability of youth and stress about getting older.
  • Seniors: Finally, and as noted already, seniors get depressed because they are dealing with the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or the anxieties associated with not having any financial security.

It doesn’t matter how young or old you are. It doesn’t matter if you have a good job, a happy family life, lots of money, and all the friends you could ask for, depression can still strike, and it can be debilitating when it does.

Conclusion: Understanding Depression in Seniors

The rate of suicide amongst seniors is on the rise. Roughly 20% of all suicides in the United States involve people over the age of 65, and this number is thought to be much higher, as many elderly suicides often go underreported.

Not only are seniors high risk for depression, but the fact that many of them live alone and have health problems means they are more likely to succeed. A 2011 study found that roughly 25% of all senior suicide attempts resulted in death, compared to just 0.5% for young adults.

If you’ve noticed some mood changes in an elderly parent or friend, and you suspect that they are too stubborn or scared to open up about their issues, sit them down, have a heart-to-heart, and make sure they get the help they need.