A creek runs along a stone wall in Sudbury/Photo by Douglas Flynn

Depression is a common but serious medical illness that involves the brain. It is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental and psychological factors and can interfere with daily life and activities.

The signs and symptoms of depression can include:

  • Persistent sadness
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Abandoning or losing interest in hobbies or other pleasurable pastimes
  • Social withdrawal and isolation (reluctance to be with friends, engage in activities, or leave home)
  • Change in eating habits resulting in unwanted weight gain or loss
  • Sleep disturbances (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, oversleeping, or daytime sleepiness)
  • Loss of self-worth or feelings of worthlessness (self-loathing, nothing you do is good enough)
  • Increased use of alcohol or other drugs
  • Unexplained aches and pains which do not respond to treatment
  • Hopelessness or helplessness
  • Increase in anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Energy loss
  • Slowed movement
  • Lack of interest in personal care
  • Fixation on death; suicidal thoughts or attempts

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms or if any of these signs are present in the person you are caring for, please speak with your doctor or a mental health professional immediately.

What caregivers should know about depression

Some important facts about depression:

  • According to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, with more than 350 million people suffering from depression.
  • Caregivers are especially susceptible to depression. A 2010 Gallup survey found that caregivers are 49% more likely than non-caregivers to have ever been clinically diagnosed with depression. In 2011, Reuters reported that one in four caregivers for ill or elderly relatives and friends said in a survey that they suffer from depression, compared to the 9% of all Americans estimated to suffer from depression in a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • There are effective treatments for depression, as the illness can be treated with medications, therapy or a combination of the two.
  • According to the National Institute of Mental Health, women are 70% more likely than men to experience depression during their lifetime
  • NIMH also notes that non-Hispanic blacks are 40% less likely than non-Hispanic whites to experience depression, though research by geriatric psychiatrist Rita Hargrave, MD shows that African-Americans and Hispanics are “less likely to admit being stressed or depressed by caring for loved ones when asked … but if you evaluate their physical symptoms of depression and stress, you’ll find high levels of both conditions.”
  • Depression is especially prevalent among the elderly, affecting 6.5 million of the 35 million Americans aged 65 and older according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
  • Depression in elderly people often goes untreated because many incorrectly believe it is a normal part of aging or mistake the symptoms for signs of dementia or other illnesses.

What MetroWest caregivers should know

Help for elders in MetroWest suffering from depression or any mental health issue is available through the Elder Community Care program. Elder Community Care is a joint project of Advocates, Inc. and BayPath Elder Services, Inc. and funded by a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health that provides comprehensive assessment and counseling services to elders and their families in MetroWest.

ECC can also speak with you about ways to talk to your friend or loved one about getting help. Anyone can make a referral to the ECC program by calling 508-573-7200.

Don’t forget about your own needs as a caregiver!

Caring for an aging family member or friend can be very difficult and overwhelming at times. There are services that can help you.

You may need help if you:

  • Feel like your loved one’s condition is getting worse in spite of your best efforts
  • Are drinking alcohol more often than usual
  • Are becoming impatient, irritable and frustrated with your loved one
  • Feel exhausted or overwhelmed
  • Have no support system providing assistance or relief from caregiving
  • Feel like you should be able to handle this on your own

Call BayPath Elder Services Family Caregiver Program 508-573-7200 to find out about services available for caregivers.

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