Depression and Suicide in Older Adults Resource Guide


Depression and suicide are significant public health issues for older adults. Depression is one of the most common mental disorders experienced by elders, but fortunately is treatable by a variety of means. Current cohorts of older adults in the United States evidence lower rates of major depression than younger cohorts, but experience minor depression or significant subsnydromal depressive symptoms at rates equal to or greater than younger groups. Adults soon to enter later adulthood, most notably the so-called Baby Boom cohort, seem to be evidencing depressive disorders at significantly higher rates than previous groups; this trend towards greater incidence of depression in subsequent cohorts seems steady. The reasons for these changes are the subject of much debate and not clearly understood. Because depression tends to be a recurrent disorder, this means that many older adults will have experienced previous bouts of depression and will be at increased risk.

Depression is not only a prevalent disorder but is also a pervasive problem. Depressed older adults, like younger persons, tend to use health services at high rates, engage in poorer health behaviors, and evidence what is known as "excess disability." Depression is also associated with suicide. Older adults have the highest rates of suicide of any age group, and this is particularly pronounced among men.

Several efficacious treatments are available for geriatric depression but seem to be underused. Pharmacotherapy and several versions of psychotherapy, including interpersonal, brief psychodynamic, problem-solving, and cognitive-behavioral, significantly reduce depressive symptoms. Interestingly, when given thorough descriptions of these treatments, older adults state a preference for receiving psychologically based treatments rather than medication.

Geriatric depression will continue to be a topic worthy of much scientific and applied interest in the years to come. This resource guide provides some current information we hope will be useful as you learn more about this important health issue.

Forrest Scogin, PhD
Department of Psychology
University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa
Updated: September 2009


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