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Recognizing Depression at Any Age

by  Phillip Holman MD

As a father of nine children and a husband, I am always concerned about the genetic legacy we pass down to our children. Depression is one of those conditions that can have genetic familial roots and may be part of other ongoing medical diagnoses. Depression is a word we hear bantered around very casually and often, but never fully defined. It can be a challenge to pinpoint what it means to be depressed. Therefore I have outlined what things to look out for, when you think you might be depressed or see depression in someone else.

Depression in adults can be best described as sadness, feelings of inadequacy and guilt, tiredness beyond sleep deprivation, events of irritability, pessimism, loss of interest or pleasure, lack of energy and inactivity or everything just seeming to appear hopeless. Depression can present itself in various fluctuations of extremes and intensities of generalized mood numbness, emptiness or sadness.  It can be part of another disorder, a result of an illness or an inherited condition. Depression may be short term or long term. It may be associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is when the number of hours of available natural light diminishes during the winter months. In any case, depression is nothing to be thought of with shame.

It is additionally important to note that depression and depressed moods in children and adolescents present different symptoms. In children and adolescents, one would tend to see behaviors that reflect boredom, sadness and/or irritability.

Teens may have longer periods of feeling depressed that may be associated with changes in weight, sleep disturbances, psychomotor changes, decreased energy, loss of interest in school and activities, suicidal thoughts, feelings of guilt, as well as feelings of worthlessness. Often youth/teens participating in high risk behaviors may be showing identifiers of depression or these high risk behaviors may be a predictor of future depressive moods.

School age children, in general, may show signs of irritability, sad moods, unexplained crying, suicidal thoughts, poor school performance, frequent headaches or abdominal pain. And pre- school children may look very sad, stop gaining weight, complain of frequent tummy aches and increased crying may be observed.

Furthermore, it is interesting to note that the elderly often do not actually talk about feeling depressed or having depressed moods. The elderly often present a more ambiguous picture of symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia and/or anorexia. As we get older, it may become more difficult to define depression in an individual. There may be no recognizable mood differences and as we age we may naturally feel slowed down somewhat.

It is very important to help loved ones that are suffering with depressed moods. It is important to find a Psychiatrist, physician or mental health provider that is a good listener and cares about you and your loved one. Positive treatment plans with the right psychological and medically therapeutic intervention are keys to helping the depressed individual to lead a happy, successful life. It is equally important to have support for those providing support.

A Depression Support Group that I facilitate is offered twice monthly at Community Medical Center in Community Physician Group - Parkside. There is no cost to attend this group. Please call (406) 327-3880 for further information, as well as for dates and times.

Phillip Holman MD is the medical director for psychiatric services for Community Physician Group, part of Community Medical Center.