Depression impacts many Americans, including seniors and their caregivers.

Since October is National Depression Awareness and Education Month, now is a great time to think about all those people who suffer from depression, often without even knowing that they do so. It's perfectly normal for everyone to feel a little sad or depressed at times, as a response to something negative which has happened in your life, or because something you may have wanted, has never happened. Your home care professionals in the area of Marysville and elsewhere would like you to remember that this kind of depression happens to everyone on earth at some point in their lives, and usually at quite a few points.

However, when those feelings of sadness and depression last for weeks on end and are accompanied by other feelings of worthlessness, self-loathing, or even despair and hopelessness, that isn't quite so normal. In fact, that kind of depression is much closer to being clinical depression, which is a treatable medical condition, but which if left untreated, will often come to dominate your life, and severely interfere with your daily routine.

In its worst forms, clinical depression may prevent you from doing anything at all during the day, and you may even have thoughts about doing harm to yourself. Many caregivers of the elderly or home-bound are also subject to depression because sometimes they must witness the decline of physical and mental abilities of people under their care, and when caregivers are family members, it can be even more difficult for them.

How you can tell if you have depression

A good rule of thumb for determining if you have clinical depression is when you exhibit at least five of the following behaviors for longer than two weeks. If you have fewer than five, and if the behaviors you exhibit do not persist for at least two weeks, you're probably not depressed in the medical sense, but you might very well be depressed in the more general sense. The behaviors to watch for are these:

  • you have difficulty sleeping every day, or you sleep too much every day
  • you have experienced an unexplained weight gain or loss recently
  • a feeling of restlessness has overcome you recently
  • your thoughts have been troubled with thoughts of death or suicide, and these are not related to any fear of dying
  • almost every single day, you feel like you have not slept well the night before, and you are tired during the daytime as a result
  • you feel like you're in a very down or depressed mood, right from the beginning of the day, and all the way to the end
  • there are no activities which interest you during the day, and you can't sustain interest in anything you do
  • it's very difficult for you to focus, to recall any details of important events or activities, and you agonize over even the simplest decisions
  • just about every day of the week, you feel guilty or worthless, or both

Interestingly, when you are troubled with clinical depression, the symptoms described above may not be the only ones you experience. You might also have some physical symptoms which begin appearing, because the two chemicals most closely associated with depression, serotonin and norepinephrine, both contribute to creating mood and pain signals in the body. That's why a depressed person might feel back pain, digestive problems, joint pain, appetite problems, and more.

Types of depression 

You might be surprised to learn that there are actually a number of different kinds of depression which doctors are aware of, even if the general population is not. Here are some of the most common forms of those diagnosed depressions:

  • substance-induced mood disorder - this is a form of depression which is produced by some drug you might be taking
  • disruptive mood dysregulation disorder - commonly affects young persons and teens, wherein they become extremely irritable and angry over some issue which does not really warrant that kind of reaction
  • persistent depressive disorder - also known as dysthymia, this condition is one which lasts for two or more years
  • unipolar major depression
  • pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder - characterized by intense irritability or anger at the onset of a period, and which is far more intense than anything the subject has demonstrated in the past
  • depressive disorder due to some other unrelated medical condition

Accompanying illnesses

Features of any of the depressive disorders listed above may include psychotic features, atypical features, anxious distress, catatonia, seasonal patterns, peripartum depression, and even features which mix two or more of the expressions listed above. It's also fairly common for depressed persons to exhibit other symptoms of accompanying diseases such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, phobias, anxiety, and eating disorders. Anyone who thinks of or talks about suicide should be taken very seriously, and if someone like that is in your company, you should make every effort to contact a mental health professional you know, or to call 1-800-SUICIDE, so that the individual receives help before a crisis comes about.

If you see anyone in your presence acting extremely aggressively or impulsively, you should consider them at risk of suicide. By the same token, if you hear anyone talking about doing harm to themselves or others, that should be taken seriously, and not brushed off as bluster or talk to get attention. Finally, if you are in conversation with someone who openly talks about death or suicide, this should also be taken very seriously, and a medical professional should be contacted at the very earliest opportunity. Keep in mind that October is the month for depression awareness and education, and you should be aware that someone in your presence might demonstrate serious signs of depression on any given day.