The signs of depression and grief can be similar, although people who have experienced both talk about the 'sadness' of grief compared with the 'numbness' or almost non-feeling state of major depression. An excellent fact sheet by The Mental Health Foundation called 'Late Life Depression' looks more closely at depression. Although in recent years depression has become more widely understood, older people might describe themselves as having 'a fit of the blues' or being 'in the doldrums' rather than admitting to being depressed. The fact sheet covers a variety of information on what to look out for and when to seek help.
Many people have developed their own coping strategies for those moments when they've got the blues - walking on the beach, gardening, treating yourself to a luxury, spring cleaning, having your hair done. Unfortunately, sometimes these strategies do not work. There are symptoms that, if present for two weeks or more, GPs, and mental health clinicians recognise as possible indicators of depression.

These may include:

  • Feeling down, most of the day, nearly every day
  • Change in sleeping patterns
  • Loss of appetite or significant weight loss or gain
  • Loss of interest and pleasure in life
  • Loss of motivation
  • Noticeable changes in behaviour such as irritability, withdrawing from others
  • Mood fluctuations
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Loss of 'fighting spirit'
  • Loss of self-esteem
  • Pain, including headaches, abdominal pain and other body pain for which the doctor can find no cause
  • Poor concentration, forgetfulness, finding it hard to make decisions
  • A mood of apathy, irritability or anxiety, alone or in addition to being sad
  • Being tearful for no reason
  • Feeling guilty for no apparent reason
  • Having suicidal thoughts/plans.

Depression can be treated and its effects minimised when recognised early. Talk to your GP. The earlier diagnosis is made and treatment begins, the better your chances of recovery and a return to your usual activities and enjoyment of life.
The section, Conditions and Treatment, on the Mental Health Foundation's website, contains a number of pages about depression and its on line bookstore gives details of pamphlets, books, videos and training workshops on depression and older people, for purchase or loan.

Another excellent website to visit is which includes information on Is this depression? and how to help others who have depression.

If you need to speak to someone you can ring the Depression Helpline 0800 111 757 or text 4202 or click here to access information on Helplines and local mental health services.

Depression in older people: why is depression often not recognised in older people?

  • Many people think depression is an inevitable part of ageing
  • GPs themselves may stereotype old age as depressing
  • Older people often don't like to bother the doctor about something other than a physical illness
  • GPs often don't ask questions about feelings and emotions
  • Most people don't complain of depression. They are more likely to tell the doctor about vague symptoms
  • Those with memories of psychiatric patients being placed in 'asylums' may be scared to talk to a doctor about their mental health
  • People born in the earlier part of the 20th century endured world wars and economic depression. Many have learnt to 'keep their chin up' or 'snap out of it'
  • Some people don't like to ask for help
  • Many fear losing their independence
  • Older people don't like the idea of having to take more pills
  • Depression can make people worry they are 'going mad' or that they have dementia
  • There is widespread belief in the myth that people can just 'snap out' of depression or 'pull their socks up'
  • People may accept they need help, but have difficulty putting troubled feelings into words.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2020

Mental Health Awareness Week 2020 will be 21-27 September. For more information visit the Mental Health Awareness Week website

Websites of interest

Find your nearest Age Concern