10 October 2013

Elderly suffer mental illness too

The theme of World Mental Health Day 2013 is “Depression in the Elderly”: millions of older South Africans are struggling unnecessarily in silence with this very real disorder.


On 10 October every year the world unites to raise awareness about mental health. With one in five South Africans living with mental illness, the most common of which is depression, awareness is important to decrease the stigma.

Living with depression as an older South African

Being the matriarch, particularly in a rural community, is a challenging task at the best of times and can be exhausting and depressing. For one 62-year-old Diepsloot resident, the burden of solving everyone else’s problems has become too much. Sandile has recently discovered that her husband of over 30 years has been cheating on her and has left. Her volatile son and his girlfriend both live with her, but this is not a source of support.

“When they fight they destroy not only each other but property as well,” says Sandile. She recently had to replace all the windows that the two broke during a fight. “I am always on the alert for the next incident.”

Her son and his girlfriend are both unemployed and financially dependent on her – and now her husband has left and will have nothing to do with their son. Sandile is struggling to make ends meet. Her sister is the only person she can talk to whenever she feels down or hopeless. “Sometimes I don’t know where to turn”

Help available: SADAG’s Facebook Friday

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) will be creating an online platform those who would like to learn more and get involved by hosting a Facebook Friday chat on the 11th October on “Ask the Doctor on Mental Health, Depression and the Elderly” with mental health experts at 1pm and again at 7pm.

They will explain:

  • How to recognise and distinguish clinical depression from other common ageing illnesses
  • Where to go for help and treatment
  • Ways of coping and managing  depression
  • How to start a support group in your community.

Isolation kills; support is key

Studies show that elders who have a support network are more likely to pull through a depressive episode than those who are isolated. After attending a SADAG support group meeting for the elderly in Diepsloot, Sandile feels that she has finally found a place where she is able to share her problems and get the help she needs:

“People listen and I realised that I am not alone - so many other women are dealing with issues like mine. We support each other and share advice. I feel I have somewhere safe.”

Log into the Facebook online chat through the website or by logging into our Facebook Page “The South African Depression and Anxiety Group’.

SADAG will also be hosting talks and workshops across the country at retirement villages and old age homes, equipping residents with valuable information on coping with depression.

Depression is a physical disorder of the brain that impacts over 20 million adults throughout the world and affects more than 6.5 million individuals over the age of 65.

Elderly patients are more likely to seek treatment for physical ailments than they are to seek treatment for depression. Sadly, depression in elderly people often goes un-recognised and untreated.

With increasing age comes major life changes, retirement, loss of health and mobility, the loss of social support, loneliness, isolation, the death of loved ones and financial burdens. Because of these changes, doctors and family may miss the signs of depression. As a result, effective treatment often gets delayed, forcing many elderly people to endure an unnecessarily long struggle with depression.

In rural areas, depression in the elderly can be a significant problem as many live under with great stress brought about by having to take care of a large family, poverty, burden of disease, living on a government grant supporting many family members, or, in some cases, being kept with the family just for their pensions.

For free telephonic counselling for yourself or a loved one who may be experiencing depression or feeling suicidal please contact SADAG on 0800 21 22 23, sms 31393 or visit our website for more information, brochures or articles on depression and other mental health illnesses.  We are open 7 days per week from 8am to 8pm.

Common Depressive Symptoms experienced by the Elderly

  • Jumpiness or tiredness, lethargy, fatigue or loss of energy
  • Loss or increase in appetite or weight change
  • Sleep changes such as insomnia or sleeping more than usual
  • Decreased ability to think, concentrate or make decisions
  • Repeated thoughts of death or suicide, and suicide attempts
  • Aches and pains, constipation, or other physical problems that cannot otherwise be explained
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Memory loss, loss of recent or short-term memory
  • Social withdrawal
  • Problems maintaining the home
  • Trouble handling their finances

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