Holidays can be the backbone of our relationships – highlights in the histories of our lives. They are traditions that serve as the foundations for many families. But because of these ties, mental health professionals note an increase in depression for seniors during the holidays.
“Statistics show that two million of the 34 million Americans age 65 and older suffer from some form of depression,” said Mike Homan, family clinical care coordinator with Behavioral Health Services at OSF HealthCare Saint Anthony’s Health Center. “Notably, only three percent receive treatment. It is important to remember that depression is a medical illness that can be treated with medication and/or psychotherapy, and that the prognosis of older individuals is excellent when they seek treatment for this disorder.”
Causes for holiday depression
There are many reasons that the holidays may affect older individuals negatively, he noted. For instance, they may be more aware of the passing of time and the absence of parents, siblings and friends who have died, financial limitations, loss of independence, being separated from family and friends or loss of mobility. In addition, traditions that were observed in the past may not be possible for a variety of reasons including death, illness and injury. And in the absence of these traditions, a holiday’s meaning can change.
“Everyone feels sad on occasion,” Mike said. “The holidays may stir some feelings of separation; however, many individuals will recover as the holidays pass. Depression is different because it causes individuals to be unable to continue to function in their everyday lives.”
Signs of depression
Signs of depression include: the individual may not feel like taking a bath or shower, brushing their teeth, interacting with others or even eating meals. They may sleep nearly all day or they may have trouble falling or staying asleep. Sometimes depression can even make an individual feel like hurting themselves.
“Some of the common symptoms of depression in older individuals include persistent sadness, withdrawal from social activities, slowed thinking, lack of energy, lack of interest in things that were once pleasurable, excessive worry, frequent tearfulness, feelings of worthlessness or helplessness, weight changes, changes in sleep patterns and concentration problems,” Mike said.
Recognizing depression in older individuals can be difficult because often older individuals have a difficult time describing how they are feeling. In addition, depression is a diagnosis that was not available when these individuals were coming of age, and thus the illness is not understood as a biological illness. Rather, these individuals might feel like expressing depression is a character weakness, according to Mike.
What you can do
To help people identify depression, OSF HealthCare provides SilverCloud – an anonymous, secure and interactive platform that helps people manage the feeling and causes of depression, anxiety or stress. SilverCloud is available on cell phones, computers or laptops.
“SilverCloud consists of seven to eight interactive modules that can be completed in any order, typically over an eight to 10 week period,” Mike said. “The modules include interactive journaling, mindfulness exercises, mood and lifestyle charting. It’s a good way for people of all ages to cope with holiday depression.
“Depression is a medical condition. Left alone, depression not only prevents older adults from enjoying life as it could be, but it also takes a heavy toll on their health. If you believe you or a loved one is suffering from depression, you should consult with a mental health care provider.”