How to Help Someone With Depression

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Know the warning signs of an older adult's depression

Older adults often face stressful situations, including chronic illness, financial problems, and loss of independence. Add that to physical and emotional isolation, and you've got a recipe for depression.
But there's a big difference between situational unhappiness and clinical depression. Feelings of sadness and anger are natural after a catastrophic event like a heart attack or the death of a loved one, but when those feelings linger for months on end and prevent an older adult from enjoying life at all, it's more than a normal reaction to grief.
Here are some practical suggestions for helping someone with depression.

Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between depression and just a case of the blues. Depression is more than just feeling sad or "down." Depression affects a person's thinking, emotions, behavior, and physical health. A depressed person may feel empty inside, or may no longer enjoy activities she once loved. She may complain of aches and pains that can't be explained or treated. When someone has several of these symptoms for weeks or months, it's likely that she's clinically depressed.
If you think someone has a case of depression, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the warning signs. And it's also helpful to know what specific indicators to look for:

  • Lack of interest in personal appearance. One of the most obvious signs of depression in older adults is when they stop caring about their personal appearance. If the person you're caring for used to take great pride in her looks but no longer bothers with makeup, she may be feeling depressed.

  • Increased complaints about aches and pains. Depression can actually amplify physical pain, turning minor irritations into severe discomfort. If your once-stoic friend or relative won't stop complaining about her sore feet, she may be suffering from more than just bunions.

  • Social withdrawal. Depressed older adults tend to push other people away -- especially those they love the most. If the person you're caring for suddenly starts making excuses not to see you or other family members or friends, it's worth checking into what's really going on.  

Bring up the subject of depression when an older adult seems down, and encourage a visit to the doctor

Break the taboo. Depression is a taboo subject for many older adults, and they may have an especially tough time thinking of it as an actual illness. But the first step toward helping someone who's depressed is letting her know you care about her and support her.
Broach 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 and you've been so irritable lately. You just don't seem like yourself. Are you okay?" Of course, there's no guarantee that your tactful, gentle probing will open the floodgates, but it's worth a shot.

If she agrees to see the doctor: In the best-case scenario, you've had a great heart-to-heart with the person in your care and she's agreed to talk to a psychotherapist or psychiatrist about her mood. In the worst case, she's repeatedly brushed off your attempts at discussion and doesn't want to hear another word about it. In that case, you might want to try another approach: Suggest a checkup with her primary care doctor. An older adult may be less resistant to this idea, and she may be more willing to listen to a doctor who urges her to get help.
If she resists: If she's resistant to the idea of seeing a doctor because she's embarrassed or afraid, help her understand that a diagnosis of depression isn't the shameful secret it once was. It doesn't mean she's "crazy" or is going to be taken away to a nursing home. What's more, her test results are private, so no one but she and her doctor needs to know.
If she refuses: If she refuses to see a doctor, there's not a whole lot you can do. You can't force the issue unless she's psychotic or suicidal, or her depression has progressed to the point where she can no longer take care of herself. If none of those circumstances apply, your best bet is to enlist other family members and friends to try to persuade her to seek help.

Support an older adult with depression during treatment

Provide practical daily help. When someone is diagnosed with depression, the doctor may prescribe antidepressant medications and/or psychotherapy. The doctor may also recommend lifestyle changes. You may need to drive her to appointments, remind her to take new medications, help her get out more, or help her make other lifestyle changes.
Get her to a professional. Even if a primary care doctor diagnosed the depression, the person may still benefit from seeing a mental health professional. Not all primary care physicians are comfortable treating depression.
Provide reassurance. Older adults are often anxious about taking antidepressants, either because of the stigma they associate with such medications or because they're afraid of potential side effects. Assure the person in your care that the doctor can work with her to find the medication that's most effective with the least-severe side effects.

Here are some other things you can do to support her:

*Help her stay as physically active as possible. Make sure you talk to her doctor about what activities are appropriate before beginning any exercise program. Find activities you can do together, such as a morning walk around the neighborhood. Exposure to sunlight can help break the cycle of sleeping during the day that many depressed people fall into.

*Structure the day around activities that give her pleasure and a sense of purpose. For example, meet friends for lunch or enjoy a leisurely walk through the mall.

*Join a support group -- for either or both of you. Talking to other people who're struggling with similar issues can be enormously comforting and helpful. It's also a great way to connect with other people her age and caregivers.  

If you've tried everything you can and nothing seems to help, remember it's not all up to you. In the end, it's really the responsibility of the person suffering from depression to get help for herself. If she won't talk to her doctor or comply with treatment, you can't make her do it. Keep offering support and provide positive reinforcement when she takes those difficult steps toward recovery.
If feelings of guilt or sadness about the situation overwhelm you, you may need help coming to terms with the fact that your loved one isn't going to get help. Ask your own doctor for information about support groups and other resources to help you manage your own feelings.


Stephanie Trelogan

Stephanie Trelogan writes about heart disease, stroke, and depression issues that concern people caring for their aging parents. See full bio

over 2 years, said...

I found this article interesting and eye opening , thanks for sharing I come to these posts often, I am a caregiver and I like to read the posts, I only thought that I have seen it all but, absolutely not !! Depression is real, a lot of people dismiss it, especially those that can handle their UPS and downs, I would like to encourage you and who ever it applies to, to continue to seek professional help. Good Luck and God Bless

over 2 years, said...

As a caregiver I have just had to escort my client to the doctor for stress management, she was shocked to know that she had an appointment, and as soon as the doctor came in the waterworks started, I was so concerned for my client all day long crying, bawling, and in a confused state of mind so I had to let her family know about about her current mood, which was driving me crazy, she was prescribed Xanax, whew. So I have created a gem full of info it's at, http//

over 3 years, said...

My husband suffers as a PTSD effective right now, His father really knows what buttons to push, to send him on a rampage. My husbands life has been controlled by blackmail, sex denial screaming at him until he caved in, Things became very bad in 2001, He had a tumor removed from his brain stem, he would not do anything asked of him without major force applied, It became a constant struggle, until he retired then he contracted MRSA in his spine, It caused his spinal cord to be crushed, leaving him without feeling in his legs, It was the second time in a decade all the cerebral spinal fluid was drained. Now every thing that somebody requests or wants him to do is actually, violently resisted, I could not even go to breakfast with his father and his friends without them pulling weapons on him and backing him away, Then when we were at the table he walks in and without warning uses his cane on the side of one of their face, buries the end in the others throat breaking his trackia, An when his father stood up yelling about how intolerable things were my husband shoves him back in his seat. I don't know what to do he wont forgive past wrongs, He takes family and friend arguments into public places, any one that he feels is a threat he destroys before they can threaten him, He is now recording every thing around the house with CCTV. His councilors have cleared the entire after noon for the family I am leaving in a few minutes, everyone wants a resolution to what has and is happening. I am tired of his retaliations, He does not stop with a simple don't try that again he wades in and hurts people. The police seem to support his position. He always has proof of why he retaliates either by witness or camera. Are there any suggestions to control my husband besides what metro suggested the said don't try to control him.

over 4 years, said...

Being there for someone is the best thing you can do. Whether or not you talk to them or not. I've noticed when someone is in constant contact with the person that is ailing they constantly help improve their attitude. If you can't be there send them something like a Sympathy Blanket to show them you care!

almost 5 years, said...

I suffer with nerves and depression i have panic attacks when faced withsocial encounters, ive been on incapacity benefit for 10 years ive been improving greatly over the years until last month when i had a letter asking for me to attend a board which in turn made me ill in the run up to it, to top it off i had 0 points,got signed off immediately had no choice but sign on jobseekers, they tell me its more stringent than ever and sign me on 2 courses within 2 days for next week, its made me really ill, im a carer for my sister who as spina bifita hydrochefilis and my father as an aggressive form of prostate cancer,i explained this to them in the jobcentre and they said that i should be having a word with my parents about handing over carers allowance to me, my mother claims the carers allowance because she cathatises my sister and it wouldnt be right asking her to give up the carers allowance cos we are barely getting by as it is and they can do without that added stress, but i does all the physical help which is a full time job in itself, if i was forced into work not only is it going to affect my health greatly, but my sisters quality of life will diminish greatly as would my mothers, so what i am asking is, is there any other benefit i can claim and would i be entitled to hardship allowance or can i class looking after my sister as volunteer work or do i have no options at all, i feel trapped and i am close to breaking down.

over 5 years, said...

I had written before that my husband and I had placed my dad, 92 yrs. old and suffering from advanced dementia, on 25 mg. of Zoloft, the lowest dose there is. The change in his behavior is dramatic. No more OCD, no more combative behavior, locking us out of the house, accusing us of stealing his money...and then I received a couple of replies condemning my choice, and suggesting that I was medicating him "only to make my life easier". I have severe depression, suffered 2 breakdowns during the course of caring for both of my parents and let me tell you, if you have not tried antidepressant medications YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT. They do not work for everyone, true, but for me and my dad it was like a dark cloud being lifted from our lives. Try being a little less judgement and not so sanctimonious in your answers. You obviously have no idea what it is like to feel like you want to die everyday, or so filled with anger that you could explode.

almost 6 years, said...

I have a fruend who appears to be depressed, where can I find a support group for him

about 6 years, said...

Great article! Thanks for sharing with us... We can help someone with depression to listen when the person wants to talk. If you're there to help the person talk things through, it may help the person feel better or continue treatment.

over 6 years, said...

yes, it is not only helpful, but also reflexes my past activities, when I was also in the state of depression.

over 6 years, said...

Hello Linda Bonnet­t and anonymous, Thank you very much for your feedback. We work hard to vary the use of the "he" and "she" pronouns throughout our site as we fully recognize both men and women are caregivers, as are care receivers. We apologize for your impression that we primarily use one over another. We'll continue to review our content to make certain we acknowledge all of those who are there for their aging loved ones. @charlieeze and anonymous: If you have questions, please feel free to post them in our Ask & Answer section, here: ( Take care everyone! -- Emily | Community Manager

over 6 years, said...

Guess this doesnt apply to men as "she" is consistantly used>\?

over 6 years, said...

Hey listen guy's Give a favour to yourself go to doctor/therapist, take medication and learn how to co-op. I have been suffering from deepration for last 35 years. But I never give up. Allways try to help myself and other who are also deepresed. Remember WWW wake-walk and work(whatever you can. even volunteer.)

over 6 years, said...

This information is great for the people who are suffering from deepration and I am one of them. Many many thanks. God (if any) bless you.

over 6 years, said...

Theres is no such thing as clinical depression, It is a made up disease By the pill pusher industries to sell Harmful drugs that have nasty side-effects. C.D is a hoax. How come the famalies of ploliticians and goverment workers don,t have these so-called diseases? And so they are attacking the young and the old with this Witch-hunt. It is pure abuse of the elderly. Don,t buy into this crap.

over 6 years, said...

this is just discribing my self

over 6 years, said...

Every thing is "She". I can't give this to my husband because he will just say it is not written for men. Please change it to he/she or person.

over 6 years, said...

Interesting article but what about if you are the depressed person and are not interested in a retirement community or nursing home?

over 6 years, said...

I have someone in my family that has never been happy. She is very unpleasant to be around. Never happy about anything! Always holds grudes and never forgets or forgives. She loves to be mean to her family. Is she depressed or just hateful and mean?

over 6 years, said...

I have recently recovered from a serious depression which lasted 14 months. I can think of no reason why the depression happened. It seemed to come on fairly rapidly. I saw an psychiatrist and a psychologist on a regular basis. I tried many anti-depressants. After many months of trial and error with medications, some of which had very bad side effects, the psychiatrist prescribed Effexor 220 mg. I have now cut back to 170 mg. which I will stay on. I think this was the medication that helped me return to being myself. My family told me I was sluring my words (before medication) and I wasn't eating. My family insisted I go to an independent living facility. I participated in all of the activities, ate meals, plus volunteered to be in charge of some activities. Gradually, I began to feel like myself again. I am home and feeling very good. I can now drive my car again, go to the grocery, shop, go to church. In other words, I have finally returned to leading a normal life. I think one of my big problems was that I didn't have a good base of friendships. I had some good friends who helped, as well as, my family, but they all had family and personal obligations. If I would have had a larger friendship basis,I think it is possible my depression would not have become as severe. One can't have too many friends. I am now working on building my friendships.