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A Guide to Mental Wellness in Older
Age: Recognizing and Overcoming Depression
Role of Family Members and Friends
- Listening—The most important role you
can play is to lend a sympathetic ear and listen
to the concerns of your family member. They need
someone who will listen to them in a non-judgmental
manner. But, careful, don’t play the role
of therapist. Rather focus on expressing empathy
and concern and acknowledge the pain and hopelessness
they are experiencing. Encourage treatment.
- Describe behaviors and events that concern
you and explain particular ways a person’s
behavior has changed. This will help that person
that he or she may have depression. It may
be useful to help the older person understand
is an illness and should be treated by a qualified
health professional. This may reduce the stigma
that some older adults experience. If you need
assistance, you might suggest that the individual
request a visit from a visiting nurse or home
health care worker to validate your concerns.
- Offer to accompany the person with symptoms
of depression to his or her doctor. You can assist
by taking notes and being a second set of ears
regarding recommended treatments.
- Be prepared for anger or resistance.
- Educate yourself about late-life depression.
Resources are listed in this toolkit.
- If someone you know has ongoing thoughts of
death or suicide, contact a doctor or go to
the emergency room immediately. Depression may
feelings of sadness and hopelessness, which
includes thoughts of self-harm. Many depression-related
suicides occur during the first three depressive
episodes before a person learns that an episode
of suicidal thinking is temporary. It is important
to ask direct questions about suicide. Assist
person with depression to prepare a course
of action before thoughts of suicide occur—for
example, list warning signs and actions that
you and the
person with depression would take.
- Learn the warning signs of suicidal thoughts
including stating feelings of despair, stating
that life is unbearable, inability to take care
of business, wrapping up personal affairs, rehearsing
suicide including discussing methods of self-harm,
and abusing alcohol and drugs.
- Make sure guns and dangerous medications are
- Don’t promise confidentiality to a person
with depression; you may be forced to break confidences
in order to provide assistance.
- Encourage regular social outings and contacts;
don’t push, but make yourself available
for transportation and other services that
may be needed.
- Remind loves ones to comply with treatment—raise
concerns if they stop medication or miss doctors’ appointments.
- If one of your family members is in an institutional
setting (for example, a nursing home), be aware
of the symptoms of depression among nursing home
residents including apathy, social withdrawal,
weight loss, agitation, or prolonged physical
rehabilitation. If you have concerns, talk to
the medical director of that facility.
- Take care of yourself. There is a very high incidence
of depression among caregivers.
A Guide to Mental Wellness
in Older Age: Recognizing and Overcoming Depression
Geriatric Mental Health Foundation 2004
7910 Woodmont Avenue, Suite 1050
Bethesda, Maryland 20814
Expert assistance was provided by Lissy F. Jarvik,
M.D., Professor Emerita of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral
Sciences, University of California-Los Angeles, School
of Medicine; Susan Lieff, M.D., M.Ed., Assistant Professor,
Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto; and
Stephen J. Bartels, M.D., M.S., Associate Professor
of Psychiatry, Dartmouth Medical School.
Mental Health Foundation grants permission to print,
photocopy, and distribute this material.
Please cite the Foundation, including the address,
phone and website.