Depression and Suicide
If your loved one is suffering from depression—and is not just “down
in the dumps” for a while—he or she can’t “will it” away. Your
care-receiver can’t simply decide, “I’m not going to be depressed
anymore.” Research shows that depression often has a physiological
and emotional basis and is treatable.
Then, too, with all your responsibilities, you yourself
might be vulnerable to depression.
Among the commonly accepted signs of depression are:
—A persistently sad, anxious, or empty mood
—Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism, and apathy
—Feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, and guilt
—A loss of interest in doing things that were once
—Disturbed sleep: insomnia, early waking, or
—Disturbed eating: a loss of appetite, weight gain, or
—Decreased energy and constant fatigue
—Recurring aches and pains
—Restlessness and irritability
—Difficulty performing daily tasks, such as going to
—Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making
—Neglect in personal appearance
—Thoughts of death or suicide
It may be easier for you to see the signs of depression in
your care-receiver than for that person to see the signs in himself
or herself. Most people with depression need counseling and/or
medication. They need to become better educated about the cycle of
depression and learn how to better cope with stress.
If your loved one has four or more of the signs listed
above and they persist for several weeks, you would be wise to
consult with a health-care professional and share your concerns.
Keep in mind that your loved one may be resistant to admitting a
problem or agreeing to get help for it.
Your care-receiver should have a physical. Depression
can be difficult to diagnose because other conditions have some of
the same symptoms. For instance, he or she may be reacting to new
medication or may have a physical condition that’s causing the
changes in emotions.
For example, Mom may be prone to depression. It may be a part
of her family medical history that no one realizes, or talks about.
Your mother may also be more susceptible to depression if she feels
she’s not in control of things and if she sets unrealistic
expectations for herself. Her depression could be triggered by the
death of her spouse, the death of one of your siblings, or a
diagnosis of a chronic and debilitating illness. She may feel numb
after that and gradually slide into depression.
One of the most serious and telling symptoms of
depression is having thoughts of suicide. Dad may talk about it but
not use that word. This isn’t a natural, coming-to-the-end-of-life
thought like “I’m going to die. It may be soon.” Instead, it is “I
want out. I just can’t take this anymore. I’m so tired; if I could
There is a very high risk of suicide among the elderly.
Experts say the actual number of suicides in the senior generation
is underreported. Unfortunately, the elderly who do try to kill
themselves are usually successful.
This is important: You will not increase the risk of
Mom committing suicide if you talk to her about it. Ask her if she’s
had suicidal thoughts or feelings. Does she wasn’t to “hurt” herself
or have a “plan,” a method, in mind? Her answers will give you a
rough idea of how serious the problem is. If she talks about a gun
that’s in the house or about stockpiling her medications, that’s
serious. If she’s wheelchair-bound and talks about jumping off a
bridge to which she has no access, that might not be as serious.
Here are some suggestions for what you can do to deal
with depression in your parent:
—Become educated about depression. Know the signs of
depression and the warning signs of suicide. Remember that depressed
people can’t control how they feel.
—Get medical help. Get an assessment of a depressed
parent. Make sure that your loved one has a physical checkup to
eliminate other possibilities for her behavior, and encourage her to
get mental health care and the necessary medication.
—Get support for yourself. It’s hard to be around
someone who has depression. It’s not contagious, but at times it may
feel that way.
—Offer support. Be strong for a depressed parent.
Assure your care-receiver that with professional help these feelings
will change. Remind him that you’re in this with him. He doesn’t
have to have it all together right now. It’s the two of you together
facing this problem. Continually reassure him that, with help, this
is a temporary condition. He won’t be sure. He may feel as though it
will last forever.
—Have fun. Reintroduce pleasure into loved one’s
—Be alert to suicidal thoughts. Even if there is no
immediate danger, talk to someone at the local crisis clinic or
suicide prevention hotline. Explain what you’re seeing with your
loved one and ask if you should be concerned. A professional can
help you with whatever steps need to be taken.
Here are some final suggestions:
—Encourage social activity. For example, get Mom or Dad
involved in the parish or at a senior center. We all need time to
—Continue to allow your care-receiver as much control
as possible in decision making in his or her daily life.
—Learn about coping skills so that when the early
warning signs appear, a strategy is in place and ready to be put to
—Take a proactive approach and be positive.
—Evaluate your care-receiver’s spiritual health. There
is no better comfort and peace that we can offer to a loved one than
the awareness of the presence and support of our heavenly Father.
Explore what resources are available.
—Continue to offer the compassionate care that helps
your loved one lead the richest and fullest life possible.
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