Mental Health Awareness Week & World Mental Health Day Educate About Depression

World Mental Health Day - October 10, 2012 - Focuses on Depression (Image courtesy of WHO)October 7-13 has been declared “Mental Illness Awareness Week” in the U.S.  This annual health observance to raise mental illness awareness was declared by an Act of Congress in 1990, to occur in the first full week of October each year.

The observance, sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a non-profit organization, and its local affiliates, includes many educational activities, NAMI Walks, seminars, and other events to raise awareness and understanding of mental illness and help provide education and resources to combat these serious medical conditions.

At the same time, October 10 each year has been declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “World Mental Health Day.” This year the focus and theme of World Mental Health Day is on “Depression: A Global Crisis.”

Among the most prevalent of mental illnesses – especially among seniors – is Depression. According to NAMI, “Depression affects more than 6.5 million of the 35 million Americans aged 65 years or older.”

Focus on Depression

A NAMI Blog post about Mental Illness Awareness Week urges, “Let’s … not forget National Depression Screening Day on Oct. 11, which NAMI has long supported.”

Internationally, as referenced, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared October 10 as “World Mental Health Day.” The theme for the day this year is “Depression: A Global Crisis”.

According to the WHO, “Depression affects more than 350 million people of all ages, in all communities, and is a significant contributor to the global burden of disease.” “Although there are known effective treatments for depression, access to treatment is a problem in most countries and in some countries fewer than 10% of those who need it receive such treatment.”

In a Fact Sheet about Depression, the WHO lists the following:

Key facts about Depression

  • “Depression is a common mental disorder. Globally, more than 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression.
  • Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and is a major contributor to the global burden of disease.
  • More women are affected by depression than men.
  • At its worst, depression can lead to suicide.
  • There are effective treatments for depression.”

Prevalence of Depression in Older Persons Too Often Overlooked

According to a film on “Treatment of Depression in Older Adults | Evidence-Based Practices,” (see below) produced by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), part of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), depression is estimated to affect up to 20 to 25% of adults over age 65. This very high rate of depression in older adults leads to “a decline in levels of functioning, reduction of quality of life, and worsening health conditions,” according to the SAMSA film.

As noted above, NAMI states that “Depression affects more than 6.5 million of the 35 million Americans aged 65 years or older.”

NAMI provides a helpful NAMI Fact Sheet on Depression in Older Persons.

NAMI is a non-profit organization which “seeks to improve the lives of individuals and families who are affected by mental illness by providing education, advocacy and mutual support.” It provides information, support groups, and multiple resources, through local chapters throughout the U.S., to help those with mental illnesses and their families and caregivers.

According to NAMI’s Fact Sheet on Depression in Older Persons, the prevalence of Depression among people over age 65 is frequently overlooked and goes untreated, “because many people think that depression is a normal part of aging and a natural reaction to chronic illness, loss and social transition.”

“Many elderly people and their families don’t recognize the symptoms of depression, aren’t aware that it is a medical illness and don’t know how it is treated,” NAMI says. “Others may mistake the symptoms of depression as signs of” other conditions, such as “Dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, Arthritis, Cancer, Heart disease, Parkinson’s, Stroke, [or] Thyroid disorders.”

“Also, many older persons think that depression is a character flaw and are worried about being made fun of or of being humiliated,” the NAMI Fact Sheet observes. “They may blame themselves for their illness and are too ashamed to get help. Others worry that treatment would be too costly. Yet research has also shown that treatment is effective and in fact changes the brain when it works,” NAMI states.

Symptoms of Depression in Older Adults

NAMI’s Fact Sheet on Depression in Older Persons lists the following among the symptoms of potential depression in older persons:

  • “Memory problems
  • Confusion
  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Vague complaints of pain
  • Inability to sleep
  • Irritability
  • Delusions (fixed false beliefs)
  • Hallucinations”

According to NAMI, “Older individuals who are depressed often have severe feelings of sadness but these feelings frequently are not acknowledged or openly shown; sometimes, when asked if they are “depressed,” the answer is “no.” Some general clues that someone may be experiencing depression are:

  • Persistent and vague complaints
  • Help-seeking
  • Moving in a more slow manner
  • Demanding behavior.”

What Causes Depression in Older People?

“Elderly people do face noteworthy challenges to their connections through loss and also face medical vulnerability and mortality,” says NAMI.

“Most people in this stage of life with depression have been experiencing episodes of the illness during much of their lives. For others, depression has a first onset in late life—even persons in their 80s and 90s. Depression in older persons is closely associated with dependency and disability and causes great suffering for the individual and the family,” NAMI explains.

“Although there is no single, definitive answer to the question of cause, many factors—psychological, biological, environmental and genetic—likely contribute to the development of depression,” according to NAMI. “Scientists think that some people inherit a biological make-up that makes them more prone to depression. Imbalances in certain brain chemicals like norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine are thought to be involved in major depression.”

Depression tends to run in families, NAMI explains. A tendency to Depression may be inherited. Then some traumatic life event may trigger onset of the disease.

“For some older people, particularly those with lifelong histories of depression, the development of a disabling illness, loss of a spouse or a friend, retirement, moving out of the family home or some other stressful event may bring about the onset of a depressive episode. It should also be noted that depression can be a side effect of some medications commonly prescribed to older persons, such as medications to treat hypertension. Finally, depression in the elderly population can be complicated and compounded by dependence on substances such as alcohol which acts as a depressant,” NAMI explains.

Approaches to Treatment of Depression in Older Adults

NAMI’s Fact Sheet on Depression in Older Persons describes some of the medical and “psychosocial” treatments being used to help older persons overcome depression.

The following 27 minute film on “Treatment of Depression in Older Adults | Evidence-Based Practices,” produced by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), part of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), provides an example of some of the community-based social services being provided to assist older persons suffering from depression, regardless of their financial means to pay for treatment:

Other Resources on Depression, and Its Treatment

SAMSA Publication – “The Older Adult, Family, and Caregiver Guide on Depression

SAMSA (the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) provides a 28-page publication for seniors and family caregivers, entitled “The Older Adult, Family, and Caregiver Guide on Depression.” (PDF Document)

The Guide “describes how older adults can recognize depression, access depression treatment, make informed treatment choices, work with practitioners to receive the best care, and be involved in decisions concerning their care,” SAMSA states.

“Many scientifically proven treatments, or evidence-based practices (EBPs), exist for depression in older adults,” according to SAMSA. “Effective treatments include psychotherapy interventions, antidepressant medications, outreach services, and collaborative and integrated mental and physical health care. These treatments can reduce the severity of symptoms in 60 to 80 percent of older adults with depression. Older adults have an important role to play in ensuring that they receive appropriate care for their depression and achieving recovery,” SAMSA says.

Webinar on “Depression: How to Help Yourself or a Loved One” by National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare – Thursday, October 11

In observance of Mental Health Awareness Week, the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, a non-profit organization, is sponsoring a Free online Webinar on “Understanding Depression: How to Help Yourself or a Loved One.”

The Webinar will take place on Thursday, October 11, 2012 (2:00 to 3:30 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time).

In the Webinar, “Cheryl Sharp, [MSW, ALWF, Special Advisor for Trauma-Informed Services] will share the story of her personal struggle with depression and explains what helped and what didn’t in her recovery.” In addition, “Bryan Gibb, lead Mental Health First Aid trainer, [who is Director of Public Education at the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare] will shed light on the common signs, symptoms, and risk factors for depression and other mood disorders and shares an evidence-based action plan for recognizing and helping persons with depression,” according to the sponsoring organization.

The National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare invites you to

Register for the Webinar FREE at

More Resources on Depression

For more information and links to other medical, governmental, community and non-profit resources on Depression, see the HelpingYouCare® resource pages on Depression, including:


Copyright © 2012 Care-Help LLC, publisher of HelpingYouCare®. All rights reserved.

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