Depression can affect people at all ages, including infants, and currently plagues roughly 16.2 million adults in the United States (roughly 6.7 percent of the adult population). However, certain ages don’t only experience depressive episodes and symptoms of certain mood disorders more often, but they may also exhibit different symptoms from older or younger groups. The causes and ways in which depression presents itself change as we get older, making it a troublesome disorder at all points in life.
The way age plays a role in the development of depression is reflected in the goals, challenges, and difficulties that we each face throughout various points in our lives, from the earliest stages of life in the crib to the last few days spent on this Earth. While the genetic predisposition for depression never changes, there is much more than just one cause for this disorder.
Depression vs. Sadness
We will not be exploring how people tend to process sadness in different points of their lives but will expressly discuss depression. But what is depression exactly?
Depression usually refers to major depressive disorder but can also refer to other depressive disorders that may occur in children and adults alike. Unlike any normal emotion, a depression is a complex disorder characterized by lack of motivation or engagement in regular activities, loss of interest in hobbies, feelings of anhedonia, and a consistent and unchanging low mood for longer than two weeks. A depression isn’t just felt in response to a sudden or detrimental chapter in your life but may develop and worsen without any external stimuli.
Stress affects a person’s chance of developing a depression, and many are plagued by constant and harsh negative thoughts, further lowering their self-esteem, discouraging them from getting treatment, and causing the disorder to change over time. Depression can range from subtle to severe, with symptoms that may appear mild and allow one to continue functioning at work, to symptoms that include being unable to perform basic tasks, struggling to get out of bed in the morning, engaging in self-harm, and contemplating suicide often.
Depression must be addressed and treated by a professional. While it can and sometimes does go away, it can also develop into a chronic (or lifelong) disorder or may be something some people are born with. Depression can be inherited to a degree but is greatly affected by a variety of stressors and factors. In the same sense, depression can be tackled through a series of lifestyle changes and considerations. Nevertheless, treatment may be necessary for many in order to learn to adapt to the disorder and continue living productive and fulfilling lives in spite of their diagnosis.
Age greatly affects the way in which depression develops, as well as the rate at which depression appears in individuals. Across the board, research shows that women report depression more often than men, and that depression is more common among the financially and socially disparaged. Minorities and groups that experience regular harassment or discrimination are also more likely to be depressed.
Depression Across the Ages
Depression generally exhibits itself as a prolonged sense of sadness, but it has many associated symptoms that may help give away its presence. These include:
- Lack of appetite
- Unexplained physical pain
- Increased chronic pain
- Suicidal ideation
- Lack of hygiene
- Lack of pleasure
- Loss of interest in old activities
- Lack of motivation
- Extreme apathy
- Sense of hopelessness
- Negative intrusive thinking
- Cognitive problems
- Slowed thinking
- Slower reflexes
- Signs of self-medication
A person with depression won’t necessarily have all of these symptoms, or even half of them. However, depression is often diagnosed by not only examining a patient’s sadness, but by watching out for several of these symptoms and cataloguing how long they have been an issue.
While depression is most common younger people, especially around the ages of puberty, depression is exhibited differently across different ages. Older adults, for example, rarely exhibit classic depressive symptoms and signs of deep sorrow or sadness. Instead, they show signs of apathy, loss of interest, cognitive decline, and negative or destructive outlets.
Depression in the elderly is not very common but occurs most often among those who have just entered retirement or are being sent to homes. Many depressed older adults feel that their depression stems from a sense of burden or uselessness, or the sense that they have become superfluous or unneeded (or even obstacles) in the lives of others.
Among younger people, depression is most often diagnosed for several perceived reasons. While no research has been made to confirm which factor may weigh in the heaviest, the main reasons for higher levels of depression among teens and young adults include the journey to adulthood, pressures at school regarding employment, and excessive access to online media, which can be anxiety-inducing and raises levels of depression due to increases in cyberbullying, negative media, FOMO, and more.
For adults past the school age, causes of depression include serious life changes, including relationship troubles, the financial burden of raising a family, a challenging job market, and many hefty decisions that can cost an adult their career and/or livelihood.
Identifying the Common Denominator
Life is full of challenges, there’s no question about it. We each face unique and different challenges, and it’s in our brain to scrutinize and focus on loss and failure far more heavily than we focus on the successes and good things in life. Gratitude is very hard to put into practice, and many of us are far worse off because of that.
Many cases of depression begin and are sourced from frustrations and emotions caused by a serious or overwhelming life change. Teens are prone to sudden and severe changes as they begin to try and adjust to the responsibilities of adulthood, and many struggle with the transition from childhood to adulthood.
As we age, we become emotionally-stable, and more prepared to take on life’s challenges, but we can never be fully prepared. Certain changes are still earth-shattering and shake us to our core.
And as we reach old age, we begin to feel older and less capable, and frustrated by an apparent lack of purpose, as well as a decline in cognitive abilities. This is more apparent in the West, as we move away from bigger family homes, increasingly sending our elderly into retirement homes and care facilities, rather than calling upon them to bring wisdom to a community.
At any age, and at any point in life, depression can be very difficult to deal with. And without the necessary support, it can even be impossible to overcome. But with the right help and the proper treatment molded around a person’s circumstances and individual challenges, recovery and remission is possible.