COLUMN: Depression may be due to the pandemic

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One way we normally avoid depression is by being with other people. The pandemic has lasted for more than two years. We have spent most of our time alone, avoiding a severe illness, but unable to see friends or extended family. Many people cannot cope well with loneliness.

Depressed people often avoid talking about their feelings. It is hard for them to make the first step by talking to their friends. Sometimes, family and friends kick in to help, but it is not usually that simple. If you are depressed, you may need more than comforting by your loved ones. You may need professional help or medication, or both.

What are the common causes of depression in older Americans? Friends passing away, trouble driving, increasing disability, too much alcohol, or retirement — all may lead to distress. Symptoms of depression may be obvious. Sadness and irritability may be symptoms of depression. Other signs are not so obvious. Eating too much, watching a lot of television and trouble sleeping may also be a result of depression.

Here are some suggestions, if you feel you are depressed but do not feel you need professional help. Get your diet in line — make sure you are not gaining or losing weight.

Keep your house neat. Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time. Cut back on sleeping medications and other sedatives.

Begin an exercise program. It may be hard for you to walk, but almost everyone can build up to walking one mile a day, outside, in the neighborhood. If you succeed in that, aim for two miles a day.

Reconnect with church or another religious organization. You may need to go to “virtual” meetings, participating on your computer. In that case, get a young person to help you learn how to use your computer. If you are drinking more than one alcoholic beverage in a day, it is too much. Cut back on the alcohol.

Turn off the television. Read a newspaper every day. Read books that do not make you sad. Fiction is usually what we read, and it is healthy to spend time involved in fictitious lives. Your local librarian can suggest books and provide you with books at no cost. Aim to read one hour a day and build up to two hours per day. Tell the librarian you have been feeling a little sad and she will often be able to find some good books to start with. Call old friends and relatives to catch up. Write letters or emails to out-of-town acquaintances.

Join a senior center. You may not be able to participate in group activities during the pandemic, but they have many services. They can help you with food and other household needs. Senior centers are a good source of advice. They have exercise groups and meals. They may be able to provide counseling help or make a referral for you.

Some other advice for a serious issue — suicide. If you or someone you love is suicidal, call 911 or take the person to an Emergency Room. Do not leave a suicidal person alone. Nowadays, people who are threatening suicide are sometimes hospitalized briefly, but usually not for a long time. Counseling and therapy may go on for many months. Medications may be helpful. Medications are only prescribed by a doctor or nurse practitioner.

See your regular doctor. They should check your weight, blood pressure, and blood work. Use the time with your doctor to catch up on any problems with your health. Make sure you have prescriptions for long-term medications. Once you are there, talk to the doctor about depression. If it is helpful, ask for a second appointment to discuss this. Make sure the doctor understands the extent of your distress.

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