Dealing with a loved one who is depressed is always tough. When that loved one happens to be a parent, the roles flip and you become responsible for their mental health care. Older people get depressed for a variety of reasons such as declining physical ability, a chronic physical illness (e.g stroke), friends and family dying, history of anxiety/depression, and dissatisfaction with how they lived their life. For example, they may feel like they didn’t accomplish enough.
A lot of seniors are flippant about depression, equate it to weakness, and refuse to talk about their mental health for fear of burdening their loved ones. How can you support a depressed parent? Here are some helpful tips.
1. Look out for the symptoms – Older people are unlikely to bring up their mental health struggles, so you need to be very observant. Look out for the following, they are signs that your parent might be depressed: sudden change in eating or sleeping habits; visible struggle with getting older; struggle with a physical illness; frequent talks about death or an expressed desire to self-harm
2. Encourage them to see a therapist – Gently suggest that your parent see a therapist to discuss the symptoms they are experiencing. Make sure you suggest it in a way that doesn’t make them feel bad or weak. Schedule an appointment on their behalf and go with them the first time. Monitor them to make sure they attend sessions regularly and take their medication (if this applies).
3. Offer your love and care – Make a greater effort to be there for them and do things that will make their lives easier. For example, you can help them get groceries and do laundry. Make sure you offer help in a way that doesn’t make them feel like they aren’t capable of taking care of themselves. For many elderly people, admitting that they’re depressed and need help can be difficult.
4. Talk to them about their feelings – Have open and honest conversations about how they’re feeling. Make sure you listen to them and honor their emotions. Listening offers direct support and comfort.
5. Watch out for suicidal signs – If your parent displays any sign of suicidal thinking such as talking about death often and giving away family heirlooms or other important possessions, you need to get them immediate help. Contact their therapist, call a suicide hotline, or take them to your local psychiatric emergency room to prevent tragedy.
Watching your parent suffer from depression can be heartbreaking. It’s natural to want to force them to get help, but being pushy can cause them to withdraw from you. Take a gentle approach that makes them feel respected and like a competent adult. Practice patience, offer emotional support and ensure that they follow their therapist’s advice.
If you have a depressed parent and you’re looking for a therapist who is experienced in geriatric issues, contact me to book a session.
Chelsy A. Castro, JD, MA, AM, LCSW