Recognizing the Early Signs of Depression

You wake up in the morning after a full night of sleep but still feel tired. Your partner asks a question and you become annoyed. You don’t feel like seeing friends or even leaving the house. Sometimes you’re sad, but aren’t really sure why.

  Are these signs of depression? The answer to that question is complicated. Everyone has days where they feel one, a few or even all of the above. So what is the difference between being “a little blue” and depressed?

As stated by the National Institute of Mental Health, depression can often go unrecognized “because for some older adults who have depression, sadness is not their main symptom.” People are unique, and many symptoms of depression may be present, like:

  • Feeling anxious or irritable, guilty or hopeless
  • A loss of interest in favorite hobbies or activities
  • Not being able to concentrate or remember details
  • Feeling chronically tired
  • Sleeping or eating too much or too little
  • Thoughts of suicide

It’s important to understand that depression is not a normal part of aging; but rather, can be related to physical changes that take place as a person ages.

For instance, some older adults have partially blocked arteries that restrict the flow of blood through the body, including the brain. The result is known as “vascular depression” which can leave a person at risk for heart disease and stroke.

Depression can also accompany other conditions and life situations such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Prescription drugs or supplements
  • Stress
  • Loneliness

Such situations can lead to both depression and loneliness, as it can become more difficult to establish new friendships and friendship networks as people age.

How is depression treated?

The first and sometimes hardest step to treatment is seeing the need for help.  Generally, depression is under treated. One reason for this is that it’s often difficult for one to let someone know they’re struggling.

Another reason depression often goes unrecognized (in a primary care setting), is if the person has other health issues.

If you think you may be depressed, you should:

  1. Talk with your doctor.
  2. Explain how you’re feeling.
  3. Share how long you’ve been feeling that way.
  4. Answer your doctor’s questions honestly.

Typically, depression is treated through medications, some kind of therapy or a combination of both. The benefits of therapy are that you can better understand that this is not your fault, what is going on, and learn new ways of thinking and problem solving.

One thing you can never go wrong with is treating yourself with kindness. Find small activities that you enjoy and don’t make major decisions until you’re feeling better.

Understanding Antidepressants

There are different treatments for depression and the prescriptions work on brain chemistry that helps regulate moods. Based on your medical history and symptoms, your doctor may choose one to prescribe. Here are some points to remember when talking with your doctor:

  • Provide any family history of depression or mental illness
  • Share any other information, such as alcohol and drug use

When you start taking antidepressants, remember that they take time to work. Some antidepressants are effective in 3 to 4 weeks, while others may need 2 to 3 months before they begin to work. Follow your doctor’s instructions, and ask your doctor if you can expect any side effects.

Remember to check with your doctor before you stop taking your medication. With some medications, if you stop taking them suddenly, you could experience side effects or your condition could worsen. Finally, if medication doesn’t work the first time, talk with your doctor. Research shows that people often try different medications before finding relief.1,2

1. Rush JA, Trivedi MH, Wisniewski SR, Stewart JW, Nierenberg AA, Thase ME, Ritz L, Biggs MM, Warden D, Luther JF, Shores-Wilson K, Niederehe G, Fava M. Bupropion-SR, Sertraline, or Venlafaxine-XR after failure of SSRIs for depression. New England Journal of Medicine, 2006 Mar 23; 354(12):1231–1242. 

Most recent update: 4/5/2018

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  • What if you have told your Dr about all of this and she hasn't done anything about it then what do you do?? I have told her that I have episodes of suicide but it's like she has ignored this because of all the health problems I have been facing I don't know but was hoping someone here can give me some advice??

  • Hi Joyce, I'm so sorry to hear this. I recommend you speak to a mental health professional about this. If you need to speak to someone immediately, please call the national suicide hotline at 800-273-TALK or you can send a text to 741741. ~ Heather

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