Although depression is usually first noticed during the teen or early adult years, a person can have an episode of depression at any age. Without treatment, an episode can last six months or longer.
Children and Adolescents
Depression may have a slightly different set of symptoms when a child or teen has it. Children and adolescents may be more likely to have symptoms like unexplained aches and pains, irritability and social withdrawal. On the other hand, symptoms more likely to affect adults include slowed speech and activity, sleeping too much and believing things that aren’t true (delusions).
Depression in children may co-occur with anxiety, disruptive behavior disorders or attention deficit disorder. Children should be treated by a physician with knowledge and experience in treating children with mood disorders. Health care providers, parents, and their children must weigh the risks of treating depression compared to the risks and lifetime impact of untreated depression and suicidal ideation. They should discuss all treatment choices, not just the use of antidepressants. All adults who interact with the child should become familiar with all suicide warning signs, regardless of what treatment the child is receiving. In addition, parents should educate teachers about what behavior they must report.
The Balanced Mind Parent Network (BMPN), a program of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), guides families raising children with mood disorders to the answers, support, and stability they seek.
Older adults may be going through changes such as children moving away, illness, moving to assisted living facilities, or the death of loved ones. All of these things can cause feelings of sadness or grief. But when feelings of sadness last for a significant length of time and keep older adults from enjoying life the way they used to, it may be a sign that they should seek treatment.
Depression treatment is especially important for older adults because they may have a greater risk of suicide. Loved ones should watch for signs such as preoccupation with death, increased visits or calls, hopeless statements, or difficulty following doctors’ recommendations.
Other illnesses may also be an issue for older adults with depression. Older adults should have complete physical examinations and their health care providers should be informed about all medications they take for all illnesses. Some medications for other illnesses may trigger symptoms of depression or have side effects that look and feel like depression.
It can help older adults have a group of people to talk to who have had similar experiences and can understand and offer support. They may feel apprehensive or ashamed at first, and not want anyone to know they are coping with a mood disorder. Most people of all ages in DBSA support groups also struggled with these feelings at first and can offer insight and support. Older adults are also encouraged to start support groups for older adults that meet earlier in the day, are accessible to people with disabilities, are closer to people’s homes or meet other special needs.