By Anna Chandy
As we inch closer towards an individualistic society, one without adequate support systems in place, incidents of mental health issues, such as depression, appear to be on the rise. According to the World Health Organisation (Who), over 300 million people worldwide are affected by depression, which tends to manifest differently in various age groups.
Mental health and well-being, an important factor during childhood and adulthood, is often over looked as a health concern in old age. But ageing puts one at a higher risk of developing mental health issues as they grapple with deteriorating health and changing life situations.
India is home to high number of elderly with depression
About 22% of India’s elderly population suffers from depression, a figure significantly higher than the global average (7%). The elderly often must deal with multiple health concerns simultaneously and it is vital to pay attention to the signs of mental illnesses, especially depression, and offer support early on. Yet, often the signs can be tough to spot. For instance, poor sleep patterns, a loss of appetite or memory loss are symptoms of mental illnesses, but may also be caused by physical ailments like heart disease and arthritis or worse.
Depression can be caused by various societal, social, psychological and physiological factors. The typical symptoms include a gloomy mood, weight loss or gain, feeling of worthlessness and/or hopelessness, fatigue, anxiety and insomnia. Since some of these symptoms typically afflict the elderly, it can get difficult at times to diagnose depression.
Depression is not a normal part of ageing
Older adults may experience life stresses that younger people can deal with differently. For instance, the loss of a loved one, retirement, lack of social support systems and an illness can cause severe distress for an older person. It is in such cases, that the signs of distress—poor memory, inconsistent sleep patterns, loss of interest in life or a lack of enjoyment, and sometimes chronic thoughts about death—should not be shrugged off as symptoms of old age.
This is primarily where medical help and expert intervention could help.
While ageing causes several health concerns, it is important to note that it does not negate the effectiveness of treatments for recovery from mental health issues like depression. A combination of the right doctor and therapist, along with family support can pave the way for improvement and mental wellbeing among the elderly.
Anna Chandy is chairperson of The Live Love Laugh Foundation’s Board of Trustees.
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