The coronavirus pandemic has brought depression and anxiety to the forefront of public conversation. Where mental health was previously considered secondary to physical health, experts now understand its critical importance for a person’s overall health and well-being.
This shift in perception is reflected in the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) definition of health. Based on the WHO’s view, health is not only the absence of disease or infirmity. Instead, it is a “state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being.” Without intact mental health, a person is not truly healthy.
Even before the pandemic, nearly 20 million Americans were affected by a depressive disorder or clinical depression.
Recognizing the problem
Researchers found that depression rates almost tripled across the United States one year into the pandemic. Nearly one-third of the participants of a study published in The Lancet Regional Health – Americas admitted to having symptoms of depression.
Not only that, but the researchers also noted in the same study that depression increased between spring 2020 and 2021. It is unusual as depression generally peaks after a traumatic event and decreases. However, in the case of the coronavirus pandemic, depression levels remained high.
As the pandemic appears to be receding, it is too early to determine whether levels of depression and anxiety are dropping. However, what is clear is that the past two years will have a lasting impact on America’s mental health.
Depression and Anxiety In-Depth
Depression and anxiety are often mentioned in connection with one another. Many people who suffer from mental health challenges experience both, but not all patients do.
It is crucial to understand their differences to efficiently address these two mental health issues.
Depression is often described as feeling sad or suffering from a low mood. While it is natural for everyone to experience these emotions occasionally, those who suffer from clinical depression or major depressive disorder are affected more strongly.
The emotions are no longer fleeting. Instead, depressed people suffer for weeks, months, or even years. Over time, their condition affects their physical well-being and mental health.
Depression can affect a person’s behavior, thoughts, and feelings, and it can also cause physical symptoms. Here are some of the most common symptoms:
- Struggling to concentrate at work and not getting things done
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Feeling guilty, irritable, and indecisive
- Being tired all the time
- Thinking that life is not worth living
Major depression requires a diagnosis by a mental health professional who will then determine the most suitable treatment.
For many people, treating depression involves medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of both.
Everyone feels stressed or anxious from time to time. Releasing the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline is part of our body’s natural response to a perceived threat. Typically, those emotions subside when the initial stressor is removed.
When those feelings and reactions happen without an identifiable cause and do not subside relatively quickly, the individual may be suffering from anxiety. General anxiety disorder (GAD) is one of the most common mental health conditions. GAD affects women more than men.
Signs and symptoms of anxiety are not always obvious or easy to spot for laypersons. They can include physical, behavioral, and psychological cues, such as:
- Panic attacks and a racing heart
- Feeling restless, wound up, or edgy
- Obsessive thinking and excessive fear
- Catastrophizing and worrying
Many anxiety sufferers will go out of their way to avoid situations that make them feel anxious. The stronger their feelings of anxiety, the more concerns they will likely avoid. It can negatively impact their career, studies, and social life.
Like depression, anxiety needs to be diagnosed by a doctor. Treatments often start with simple lifestyle changes that help reduce stress levels. More severe cases of anxiety require psychological or medical intervention.
Depression and Anxiety in the Elderly
Depression and anxiety are relatively common in people over the age of 65. However, neither of these conditions needs to be a natural consequence of aging. But they can be triggered by other factors closely associated with aging. Those factors include:
- Fear of illness and injury due to declining health
- Difficulty dealing with loss and grief of family members and friends
- Difficulty adjusting to a different lifestyle in retirement
Despite being common in elderly patients, the onset of anxiety or depression is often overlooked in seniors. It may be partial because older people display different symptoms for both conditions than their younger counterparts.
Symptoms of anxiety in seniors include:
- Shakiness and panicky feelings
- Headaches and confusion
- Muscle tension and soreness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Not wanting to leave home and withdrawal from social activities
Symptoms of depression in the elderly include:
- Feeling tired, grumpy, and irritable
- Struggling to pay attention
- Changes in weight or appetite
- Feelings of confusion
- Moving more slowly and not enjoying their usual activities
As with all age groups, depression and anxiety in seniors need to be professionally diagnosed to determine the best course of treatment.
Depression and Anxiety in Assisted Living Facilities
When the pandemic began in 2020, residents of assisted living facilities (ALFs) had to minimize their contact to prevent COVID-19 major outbreaks in their facilities.
As a result, more residents began to struggle with mental health challenges.
Not every assisted living facility offers mental or behavioral health care as part of its standard services. That meant many went undiagnosed and continued to struggle with their problems for residents.
If left untreated, anxiety and depression can severely detrimentally impact a person’s quality of life. Seniors struggling with their mental health often neglect their physical health. They may forget to take medication regularly and avoid exercise or social contact.
As a consequence, their overall well-being suffers.
Resolving America’s Depression and Anxiety Crisis
Traumatic events can cause depression and anxiety, but in older people, these conditions tend to develop over time.
Many mental health problems like depression and anxiety can be prevented or mitigated with the help of behavioral health care. Behavioral health care aims to establish and maintain positive habits that contribute to an individual’s well-being.
Elderly people benefit from access to behavioral health care, especially if they transition from fully independent living to a form of residential care. Moving always disrupts standard routines. But moving into assisted living or a nursing home marks the beginning of the last phase of someone’s life.
Behavioral and mental health care can be critical to helping individuals deal with the challenges of the transition. Behavioral support helps re-establish positive habits like regular eating patterns and sleep routines. Community settings like ALF are also perfectly placed to encourage social contact between residents.
Those factors contribute to overall well-being in the spirit of the WHO’s definition of mental health. They are critical in recognizing and addressing conditions like depression and anxiety.
Assisted Living facilities can offer behavioral health services at no additional cost to the facility or its residents with the help of a proven partner. TrueCare™’s behavioral health platform allows access to comprehensive behavioral health services as and when facilities and residents need them.