Q: My depression began when I was in my early 50s but it took a long time before the correct diagnosis was made. At first I was told I was a hypochondriac and sent to a psychiatrist for an evaluation. It was felt all my symptoms, even the physical ones, were “psychogenic” (all in my head).
Finally admitted to a psychiatric ward, my ego was shattered. I was sent to group therapy for stress management, self-esteem and hypnotherapy. After one month I was discharged. Six months before admission I had been diagnosed with a vitamin B12 deficiency, which could have caused some of my psychiatric symptoms. I was not treated for this deficiency. It took almost 20 years before I was diagnosed with an underactive thyroid gland and treated for hypothyroidism. I am 76 and will probably be on this treatment for the rest of my life. I tell my story hoping it may help other people.
A: Thank you very much for sharing your experience. You have travelled a hard and lonely road in the past 20 years and I hope things will be easier for you now that you are receiving appropriate treatment.
Depression and other symptoms such as deep and long-lasting sadness, extreme fatigue, poor memory and suicidal thoughts are not imaginary symptoms. They can be the result of physical problems such as hormonal or vitamin deficiencies or chemical imbalances that affect the brain.
Depression is an illness much like other illnesses in that there may be a physical reason for the condition. Unfortunately, depression is often overlooked in older people. One estimate is that as many as one in seven elderly people may suffer from depression, but that most are not diagnosed or treated.
Symptoms such as persistent sadness, withdrawal from activities, poor appetite, difficulty with concentration, memory and sleep are sometimes attributed to retirement, ageing or losing a loved one.
If these symptoms persist for longer than six months after the event, depression should be considered as a diagnosis.
Your letter highlights the importance of taking responsibility for our health. It may even prompt someone to have a thorough medical check-up. It reminds us that physical and mental health are closely connected.
Most of all, it shows the importance of recognising depression in the elderly and making them aware of the various treatments that can be successfully implemented these days, thereby adding quality of life to the later years.