Seeing a senior loved one struggle with depression can be extremely painful. You don’t want them to suffer, but you may not know how to help. Mental health is a sensitive topic, and many seniors with depression don’t want to open up to their friends or family. You may watch as your loved one becomes more and more withdrawn until you hardly recognize them anymore.
Showing support for your loved one as they battle depression is essential. Even if they’re not ready to open up to you or seek professional treatment, you can always show them you care.
Here Are 8 of the Best Ways You Can Help Seniors with Depression
1. Listen and empathize.
As a relative or caregiver of a senior with depression, your first inclination may be to “fix” the problem. Many people want to jump right to the solution and take action steps to help their loved one. Before you can suggest therapy or other treatment, though, you have to truly listen to and understand your relative.
Depression is incredibly isolating. Your loved one may believe that no one cares about them or that they’re a burden on their family. One of the best things you can do for someone with depression is listen without judgment. You don’t always have to offer a solution or try to make them feel better. Instead, try to make them feel seen and heard.
2. Rule out medical issues.
Depression is sometimes caused by underlying physical health issues. This can be especially common in older adults because seniors are more likely to experience chronic health conditions. In some cases, seeking treatment for a medical concern will help to relieve the symptoms of depression. You could gently suggest that your loved one bring up their symptoms with their doctor. With their permission, you could also attend the appointment with them to show support.
3. Develop a social support network.
Social isolation is one of the worst impacts of depression for older adults. Depression causes you to withdraw from your family and friends, but the resulting loneliness can make the depression even worse. Because depression destroys your energy and motivation, it’s difficult to maintain a support network on your own.
Encouraging your loved one to socialize can be a great way to support them. They may not be ready for long outings or big social events, but you could arrange for some small and laid-back gatherings. Maybe their friend could stop by their house for a few minutes, or maybe you could set up a phone call or video chat with some family members. As long as your loved one doesn’t feel pressured to socialize, helping them maintain the connections with their friends and family can go a long way.
4. Don’t force them to share.
When you see your loved one suffering from depression, you want to help them at all costs. However, pressuring them to open up when they’re not ready will do more harm than good. You can mention that they seem down or withdrawn and that you’re concerned about them. If they don’t want to tell you what’s going on, though, you can’t force them to. You can let them know that you love them and are always willing to listen, but the decision to open up should always be their own.
5. Encourage physical activity.
Starting an exercise regimen is one of the best lifestyle adjustments for someone with depression. Lack of energy is a common symptom of depression, so increasing activity can be challenging. You could ask your loved one to go on a brief walk with you or to join you for a low-intensity group exercise class. Any physical activity can boost your mood, so finding simple and accessible ways for your relative to exercise is key.
6. Ask them for help.
Depression can make you feel like you’re a burden on those around or like you have nothing to offer the world. Asking for help from your loved one shows them that you do need them. Although you shouldn’t ask for more than the person can offer, you could request help with a task around your home or ask for their advice on something. This can boost their self-esteem, increase their motivation, and build trust between the two of you.
7. Be alert for signs of suicidal ideation.
Not all seniors with depression are suicidal, but it’s critical that you’re watchful for signs of suicidality. If your loved one starts talking about death or giving away their possessions, they might be planning a suicide attempt. A sudden improvement in their mood or an increase in their energy levels can be a warning sign, too.
You should seek professional support right away if you have any concerns that your loved one is suicidal. Call 911 or 988 for the suicide crisis lifeline, and make sure your relative is in a safe environment and is not left alone.
8. Gently suggest treatment.
Counseling for seniors can be a highly effective form of treatment. Depression is often caused by harmful thinking habits, and therapy can help you break out of those patterns. Unfortunately, people with depression often feel resistant to therapy or other treatments because they believe that they don’t deserve to feel happy or well. Seniors may be particularly hesitant to try therapy because mental health has been a stigmatized topic for so long.
You can’t force someone to attend therapy, and you should never pressure your loved one or give ultimatums. However, gently suggesting it as an option and helping them arrange an appointment can be very helpful. You can communicate to your loved one that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with receiving help and that plenty of people of all ages go to therapy to get their health in check.
Senior Counseling for Depression
Blue Moon Senior Counseling provides therapy for seniors with depression and other mental health disorders. If you or an aging loved one is struggling with mental health, you’re not alone. Many older adults have successfully treated their depression with therapy. You can contact us today to learn more about the benefits of counseling for seniors.