Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between depression and just a case of the blues. As people age, problems and situations arise that could cause anyone to feel depressed: the death of a loved one; feeling lonely; diagnosis of a chronic illness; having a tough time getting used to retirement. It's normal to feel sad when these things happen.
However, after a period of feeling sad, we should adjust and regain some emotional balance. But people with clinical depression don't get over those feelings. If a person is suffering from clinical depression and doesn't get help, the depression could last for weeks, months or even years. It causes a person to no longer enjoy the activities they usually like, and even lead to thoughts of suicide.
If you think someone you love is suffering from depression, don't ignore the problem. Here are some practical suggestions for helping someone with depression.
Watch and Listen for Signs
Listen carefully if someone complains about being depressed or says people don't care. That person may really be asking for help. Look for warning signs of depression, such as crying, sadness that lasts for extended periods, social withdrawal, and lack of interest in activities and friends.
Don't be Embarrassed
The first step is to accept that your family member needs help. You may not be comfortable with the subject of mental illness. Many people believe that a depressed person can quickly "snap out of it" or that some people are too old to be helped. They are wrong.
Bring Up the Subject Carefully
Instead of plunging directly into a tough discussion about therapy or treatment, try asking what's going on. "I've noticed you haven't been sleeping well." "You seem so sad lately. You don't seem like yourself. Are you okay?" Being tactful and using gentle probing will not instantly put the elder on the defensive.
Try to Overcome Resistance Gently
Your parent might resist the idea of seeing a doctor because he or she is embarrassed or afraid. Try to help them understand that a diagnosis of depression doesn't mean they are "crazy" and they are not going to be hauled away to a nursing home.
Seek Professional Backup
If your parent repeatedly brushes off your attempts at discussion, talk to your parent's doctor yourself. Tell the doctor your concerns, behaviors you've noticed and your parent's resistance to get help. Older people are sometimes less resistant and more willing to listen to a doctor who urges them to get help. The doctor or mental health specialist can start by making a phone call. A telephone call can't take the place of the personal contact needed for a complete medical checkup, but it might inspire the person to go for treatment.
Don't Let Cost be a Factor
Don't let the cost of treatment stop your loved one from getting help. Often, only short-term therapy is needed, and it is usually covered by insurance. Also, some community mental health centers may offer treatment based on a person's ability to pay.
Be Involved in Treatment
You can help your relative stay with the treatment plan. If needed, make appointments for the person or go along to the doctor. Get your relative to go on outings with you or go back to an activity that he or she once enjoyed. Encourage the person to be active and busy, but not to take on too much at one time.
Get A Second Opinion When Needed
Some family doctors may not understand about aging and depression. If your doctor is unable or unwilling to help, you may want to talk to another health care provider.