Insightsthe blog of Porter Hills
Understanding Depression and Anxiety as Treatable Illnesses
This conversation has become more common lately but there is still so much stigma surrounding mental illness. It is so easy for society to place mental health on the back burner when there are many other chronic health concerns. However, the approach that we have taken as a society is not sustainable and it is clouding our quality of life as a whole. Medical professionals tend to focus on tangible disease processes but we are now realizing that we need to adopt a more holistic approach to health care. The holistic approach encompasses not only the physical issues, but the mental and spiritual needs as well.
Depression and anxiety are not a normal part of aging. It is important to note most statistics regarding mental illness are only estimates. Many mental illnesses often go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed in the older adult population because the symptoms are not recognized as depression. Many older adults living with depression claim not to be sad or depressed at all. They may talk about being discouraged, lack of energy or physical problems.
Anxiety is another mental health concern that is often not addressed properly. The medical community tends to medicate people that live with anxiety instead of finding the source of the anxiety and developing proper coping skills. There are several reasons why this issue is not addressed adequately; lack of mental health resources and lack of funding, or financial considerations on the patient’s part to name a few. The problem with not finding adequate treatment is that the medications can have side effects that affect safety. A tolerance can be developed to medications and there are long term impacts on the rest of your body systems with the prolonged use of anti-anxiety medications. Not to mention, the underlying condition is still present.
Caring for a person with a mental illness can be a challenge. Often caregivers become frustrated or feel inadequate when they are unable to help a person living with mental illness.
Caregivers and older adults that feel they may be struggling with depression or anxiety can find guidance and support by accessing resources listed at the bottom of this blog.
Statistics from the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation:
- An estimated 6% of adults 65 years and older have diagnosable depression
- Depression affects approximately 25% of people that have a chronic illness in particular
- An estimate 50% of nursing home residents have depression
- Of older adults that have committed suicide, 40% have seen their primary care provider within a week
Manifestation of depression in the senior population:
- Unexplained pain
- Unexplained memory problems
- Feeling of hopeless or helplessness
- Easily overwhelmed
- Anxiety or worries
- Loss of interest in hobbies or socialization
- Neglecting personal care (i.e. skipping meals, meds, hygiene)
- Sleep disturbance
Geriatric Mental Health Foundation reports that depression is one of the most successfully treated illnesses. When properly diagnosed and treated more than 80% of those with this illness recover and return to their normal lives.
- Talk therapy- Talk therapy allows a person to express and explore their feelings in a safe and open way with a non-family member. Talk therapy can help people work through the grieving process which can be triggered by loss of independence, health complications, loss of family or friends, some of which can have accumulated over time.
- Medications- There are many types of medications that work on different mechanisms of the brain to improve neuropathways.
Treatments used for severe depression:
- ECT- Electro-convulsive Therapy. This treatment is used when a person has not responded to medications or talk therapy. In society there has been misrepresentation of this form of treatment. There have been advances made with this therapy that have increased the success rate and safety when utilizing this method.
Tips for helping an older adult friend or relative that you believe may be depressed- Remember when trying to help an older adult with depression that they are battling a real illness. When they refuse outings or your offers to help them, they are likely struggling and not purposefully trying to be difficult or unreasonable. It is important not to take this behavior personally and to continue to be gentle and persistent.
- Invite them out and suggest activities that you can do together
- Schedule regular social activities and be gently insistent if your plans are refused
- Approach can make a big difference
- Ensure they are taking their medications