Outcomes, Inc.

Grandma hasn’t been herself. Fred hasn’t been to the senior center in months. Juanita is starting to give away her favorite keepsakes. When is it time to worry that someone we care about may be seriously depressed or becoming suicidal?

Depression can be difficult to detect in older adults, because many of its symptoms overlap with some common experiences of aging. As we age, our sleep can become disrupted, our appetite may change, we may feel a decrease in the energy we once had, and we may develop various physical complaints such as digestive problems or generalized pain. However, depression is NOT a normal part of aging. If someone you know is having symptoms like these, ask about their interest in their usual hobbies or activities. Listen for feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or disconnection. If they’ve stopped doing what they used to enjoy or have any of the feelings mentioned, encourage them to seek help.

Depression is a very treatable condition and a very dangerous one if left untreated. According to the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation, the risk for suicide increases with age. People 85 and older have the highest rates of suicide – twice the overall national rate. And depression, along with chronic illness, greatly increases a person’s risk for becoming suicidal.

It is hard for older adults to talk about feeling depressed or suicidal, because many believe it means they are weak or that these feelings are just part of growing older. They are wrong. Talk to them. Get them to their doctor to screen for other possible causes for their symptoms. And let them know you care. You just might save a life.

For more information about depression and suicide among older adults, visit the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation, the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, or the National Institute of Mental Health.

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