Many older people experience depression, although it is not a normal part of the ageing process. By recognising the symptoms of depression and getting help and support early, you can get back to enjoying life again.

Experiencing any of these symptoms for two weeks or more may be an indication of depression, and should be discussed with your GP:

  • Sadness, despair, or feeling down
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless
  • Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy and socialising
  • Changes in appetite, including overeating or loss of appetite
  • Unexplained or aggravated aches and pains, including headaches
  • Lack of energy or motivation
  • Behavioural changes such as increased irritability, anxiety, mood fluctuations, and withdrawing from others
  • Changes in sleep patterns, including difficulties falling or staying asleep, oversleeping, or feeling sleepy during the day
  • Feelings of worthlessness, low self-esteem, or being a burden
  • Poor concentration, problems with memory, and difficulty making decisions
  • Increased use of alcohol and drugs
  • Neglecting personal care, including skipping meals, forgetting medication, and neglecting personal hygiene
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Depression often goes undiagnosed in older people because they are more likely to report the physical symptoms associated with depression rather than the psychological symptoms. It is important to tell your doctor if you have constant feelings of low mood or lack of motivation so you can work towards recovery.

Depression in older people

Depression can affect anyone regardless of background or circumstance, and the changes that happen in older age can trigger its onset. Common causes of depression in older people can include:

  • Other health problems, including side effects from medications
  • A reduced sense of purpose from retiring or needing more support from others
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Limited independence or a fear of losing independence
  • Recent bereavements

Often depression is undiagnosed in older people for several reasons, including:

  • Assuming it is an inevitable part of the ageing process
  • Stereotypes of what depression looks like
  • Not wanting to bother the doctor with something that is not physical
  • Memories of poor treatment of mental health issues in the past
  • Having difficulty putting feelings into words
  • Not wanting to take more medication

Treatment and tips

Talking to your GP: Seeking help from your GP is a good way to understand the different treatments for depression and can help you make a plan for your recovery. Receiving an early diagnosis and treatment means a better chance of recovery.

Finding the right treatment for you: There are a variety of treatments you can discuss with your doctor, including therapy and counselling, taking medications such as antidepressants, and traditional and cultural approaches such as rongoā Māori. It is important to talk about these options with your doctor to understand what the best approach is for you.

Staying supported: Reaching out to friends and whānau when you feel depressed is important for building support. Surrounding yourself with loved ones can help you engage in meaningful activity and stay social, and they can also offer support when you need someone to talk to.

Finding meaning and purpose: Doing activities that give you a sense of purpose and that you find meaning in can improve your sense of self-worth. Volunteering, joining social and hobby groups, or visiting friends and whānau can keep you physically and mentally stimulated and help you feel like part of a community.

Lifestyle changes and healthy habits: Ensuring you maintain a healthy diet and get regular exercise can improve overall wellbeing and depression. 


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