senior woman stare off into the distance

We all go through ups and downs in life, happy and sad times. When life is hard, we know that it won’t always be that way—things will get better. But for some people, it feels like the sad times never go away and discouragement is constant. That’s a sign that there may be a deeper problem, such as depression. Depression is an illness that affects all aspects of a person’s life, including mental and physical health.

Depression isn’t something that most people will freely discuss, though it is more common than most realize. According to the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation, depression affects 20 million adults in America, including 6.5 million adults over the age of 65. That means depression affects 15 out of every 100 adults over age 65. For older adults who are facing struggles such as severe medical conditions, declining health, financial instability, the loss of loved ones or friends, or just plain loneliness, depression may seem like a normal part of life. But despite what it seems, depression that lasts for a long period of time and affects a person’s ability to cope with everyday life is not normal. Depression is an illness that should not go untreated.

It is important to understand depression and know how to help yourself or others who may be suffering from this illness.

Know and Watch for the Signs of Depression

The National Institute of Mental Health lists some symptoms to watch for:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating or loss of appetite
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment

If these symptoms persist for a prolonged period of time and never seem to go away, this could be a sign of depression. It may be time to visit a doctor and seek treatment. With treatment such as medication and/or counseling, many of these symptoms can be eased or can disappear completely.

Help Your Loved One Who Suffers From Depression

When you have a loved one who suffers from depression, it can be overwhelming. It often feels like nothing you do is helping—and sometimes it even gets depressing for you. According to the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation, there are many things you can do to help:

Listening is the most important thing you can do. Just listen. Don’t try to offer advice or counseling. Be understanding, loving and caring. Don’t judge. If you feel like you must make recommendations, recommend treatment from a doctor or counselor.

Describe to your loved one how he or she has changed and point out any new behaviors that concern you. Depression can cloud a person’s perspective, and he or she may not even notice the behavior changes. You may need to emphasize that depression is an illness. It isn’t something your loved one is doing wrong or can change without help. Offer to accompany your loved one to the doctor’s office.

Educate yourself about depression and learn the warning signs of suicide. Take it seriously if your loved one threatens suicide. If it comes to it, remove guns and dangerous medications from the home, call the doctor and/or take your loved one to the hospital.

Encourage your loved one to be social, to meet with friends, to go on outings. Be willing to help with transportation to and from outings if necessary.

Remind your loved one to keep up with any medication and treatment recommended by the doctor.

Take care of yourself. Make sure you are getting the help and support you need. Don’t allow yourself to start becoming depressed. You need to remain strong and healthy, so you can help your loved one to heal.

Help Yourself Heal From Depression

If you are suffering from depression, get help from your doctor and follow the prescribed treatment. As you begin to heal, there are many things you can do to help yourself get better day by day. The Geriatric Mental Health Foundation recommends you try doing the following:

Involve your friends and family members. Be honest with them. Ask for help and support, especially during times when you are feeling low. Spend time with those you love—especially those who are supportive of you. Avoid spending time with people who do not understand you or are critical of you.

Think positive. Do not blame yourself for this. You are not a failure, and you are not the only one who suffers from depression. Sometimes it helps to talk to people who have been through it. They know what you are going through and can give you advice and support.

Pace yourself. Don’t overload your schedule. Be realistic about the activities you can handle right now. Try to return to your favorite activities first—do what you love the most. Make sure that each day includes at least one of your favorite activities. Let those activities motivate you to do more and more each day.

Eat healthy and get plenty of exercise. Excessive intake of caffeine, alcohol, salt and sugar can affect your ability to heal. Exercise, especially outdoors, can help you to feel better much faster.

And lastly, be patient with yourself. Healing takes time. Allow yourself to heal and your treatment to start working before you make any crucial, life-changing decisions.


The key thing to remember is that severe depression isn’t something that a person can just snap out of. It is an illness that can and should be treated. It takes time, but things will get better. Watch for symptoms in your life, and watch out for your loved ones. Don’t let depression take control.