Depression is far more than simply feeling sad. It interferes with life and has far-reaching consequences for both the depressed person and loved ones. Depression is a serious but treatable disease, once you know what to look for. Learn to recognize the signs of depression in veterans and seniors so you can get help sooner rather than later.
. Lack of interest or motivation to accomplish small tasks or be social. If your senior or veteran loved one is having significant trouble getting out and doing things, or has lost interest in activities he or she previously enjoyed, it’s a sure sign of depression.
. Changes in sleeping and eating habits. This sign of depression could be overeating and getting too much sleep, or losing appetite and rarely sleeping. If there’s a significant change from previous habits, you may have something to worry about.
. Expressing negative feelings. Worthlessness, guilt, shame and anger are all emotions depressed people feel. If your loved one is expressing these emotions but not dealing with them in a healthy way, it’s time to get help. If he or she expresses thoughts of suicide or death, get help immediately. It’s better to be safe than think you must protect the feelings of a loved one.
. Multiple episodes of grief and/or trauma. Seniors have a lot of accumulated grief as friends and family members die or move away, so there’s a great sense of loss that can pile up over time. Veterans have often experienced significant trauma, but even if there’s nothing you can put your finger on, there may be traumas that haven’t yet been expressed. Watch for these stories and keep them in perspective.
. Chronic physical illness or injury. Chronic pain or disease can take a toll on anyone. It’s much harder to take care of yourself when your body is no longer acting “normal” or you have lost the ability to do things you formerly enjoyed. If all efforts to engage a depressed person in new activities fail, talk to a qualified counselor to address the underlying emotions.
. Substance abuse. Many times, people with depression try to self-medicate their feelings or bury them under the effects of alcohol, pharmaceuticals or other drugs. Watch your loved one to see the signs of substance abuse and seek help for both yourself and your senior or veteran.
. Past episodes of mental health challenges. People who have experienced past episodes of depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, etc. are much more likely to have recurrent bouts of depression. If your loved one has sought help before, return to that mental health professional if you can. Retelling the same stories to a new psychologist can re-traumatize the person, causing even more distress.
Take this quick and confidential quiz to find out if you or a loved one suffers from depression, courtesy of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.