Mental health is important for everyone, at every age. Older men can be especially at risk for depression: approximately 15% of adults over 60 experience a mental or neurological illness, and approximately 7% are diagnosed with depression. Understanding depression and your options is important for your wellbeing.
Growing older can present specific challenges and stressors, like feeling lost or experiencing low self-esteem after retiring, or loss of loved ones, which becomes more common as you age. An increase in other health problems, including mobility issues, chronic pain, and illnesses can also contribute to depression. Certain illnesses which can become more common with ageing, including cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and a history of strokes have also been known to make developing depression more likely. Genetics and family medical history can also play a role in depression.
What Depression Can Look Like in Older Men
It can sometimes be difficult for men to identify feelings of depression. In addition to other common depression symptoms, men with depression also may exhibit other behaviors that you may not recognize at first as being related to depression. These include:
- Escapist behavior, which can include spending much more than usual time at work, on sports, or on another activity
- Irritability or aggressive behavior
- Alcohol and drug abuse
- Physical pain, like back pain, headaches, and trouble sleeping
- Risky behavior including reckless driving, increased or unsafe sexual activity, or serious gambling
- Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
You may notice physical symptoms or signs like these more easily than changes in your mood at first, and you may describe depression symptoms without realizing what’s going on.
Combined with these symptoms which are specific to men, you may also experience general depression symptoms:
- Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Loss of interest in everyday activities and things you usually enjoy
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Trouble concentrating
- Sleeping too much or having trouble sleeping
- Loss of appetite and under-eating, or overeating
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Feeling reluctant to go out or try new things (especially for older adults)
Older men’s experiences with depression can be made more complicated because mental health professionals often miss or misdiagnose depression in older people. Men also may feel hesitant to talk to their doctors about depression. Despite the impact of depression for older men, they are less likely to receive a diagnosis and treatment for depression than women of the same age
What You Can Do
If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, you can seek support from your doctor and your loved ones. Primary care doctors can talk with you about depression during a regular appointment and can advise you on treatment or refer you to a psychologist to help you manage depression as part of your overall health. They may recommend counseling, adjustments to your routine, and antidepressant medication.
Friends and Family
One of the most important, and at times the most difficult, ways to manage depression is to seek support from others. Talk to a friend or family member who you trust to share what you are experiencing.
You may also benefit from being part of a support group for people with depression, especially one specifically for men or older people. In a support group you can talk to others with similar experiences and get advice from others.
In addition to talking to them about depression, spending regular time with friends and family and maintaining your relationships has been proven to help manage depression. Keeping up with social activities can help you feel supported and confident and give you a sense of normalcy.
Maintaining a Routine
One of the central ways to manage depression is by maintaining a consistent routine. Keeping a regular sleep schedule is especially important, as is trying to get 8 hours of sleep every night. Your routine may also include exercise or other physical activity, which has been shown to help regulate and improve mood. A consistent routine of activities can help avoid unhealthy or harmful behaviors caused by depression including oversleeping or substance abuse. Your routine will also help you stay socially engaged.
Proper nutrition can be surprisingly important for managing depression. People with depression often also have nutrient deficiencies in B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, minerals, and amino acids. The body uses amino acids to produce neurotransmitters, which transmit messages between nerve cells. Neurotransmitters, especially serotonin, are used to regulate mood. Eating a balanced diet rich in these nutrients can help address biological causes of depression and help your overall health.
Some of the major symptoms of depression are feeling isolated and worthless. Social activities, volunteering, and religious and spiritual activities, can help combat these feelings by keeping you connected with others in your community and by providing a sense of pride and self-worth.
Developing Your Toolbox
Like any other challenge, handling depression is easier when you have the right tools. Over time, you can develop a list of resources and activities that work for you. These might include spending time with friends, going for a walk, meditating, or a hobby. As you learn more about your depression, you can find out what works best for you to get through depressive episodes.
Depression can hit hard, especially for older men. Understanding your depression, seeking help from friends, family, and medical professionals, and working to manage your symptoms can make depression more manageable.
If you are struggling with symptoms of depression, it’s important to reach out to a trusted friend or relative and to your doctor so you can get support. If you or someone you know is in crisis or are experiencing suicidal thoughts or concerned that you may harm yourself, support hotlines are available. In the US, these include the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255). You can also call your doctor, or call 911 for emergency services.