Symptoms and Diagnosis
There are many symptoms associated with depression, and some will vary depending on the individual. However, some of the most common symptoms are listed below. If you have several of these symptoms for more than two weeks, you may have depression.
- feeling nervous or emotionally "empty"
- feelings of excessive guilt or worthlessness
- tiredness or a "slowed down" feeling
- restlessness and irritability
- feeling like life is not worth living
- sleep problems, including trouble getting to sleep, wakefulness in the middle of the night, or sleeping too much
- eating more or less than usual, usually with unplanned weight gain or loss
- having persistent headaches, stomach-aches or other chronic pain that does not go away when treated
- loss of interest in once pleasurable activities, including sex
- frequent crying
- difficulty focusing, remembering or making decisions
- thoughts of death or suicide, or a suicide attempt
Is it Depression or Something Else?
The first step to getting appropriate treatment is to visit a doctor. Certain medications taken for other medical conditions, vitamin B12 deficiency, some viruses, or a thyroid disorder can cause symptoms similar to depression. If an older adult is taking several medications for other conditions and is depressed, seeing a doctor is especially important.
A doctor can rule out medications or another medical condition as the cause of the depression by doing a complete physical exam, interview, and lab tests. If these other factors can be ruled out, he or she may refer you to a mental health professional, such as a psychologist, counselor, social worker, or psychiatrist. Some doctors called geriatric psychiatrists and clinical geropsychologists are specially trained to treat depression and other mental illnesses in older adults.
The doctor or mental health professional will ask about the history of your symptoms, such as when they started, how long they have lasted, their severity, whether they have occurred before, and if so, whether they were treated and how. He or she will then diagnose the depression and work with you to choose the most appropriate treatment.