Senior man sitting on a couch

Age and depression

Symptoms of depression among the elderly are high, especially in residential aged care[1], but it is important to note that depression is not a natural part of ageing.

Life circumstances can affect how people think and feel. This can lead to feelings of sadness and grief, which can sometimes get reported as depression.

For example, later in life we are more likely to experience the following factors, all of which can cause strong feelings of distress:

  • Deteriorating health
  • Social isolation
  • Losing contact with people
  • Death of peers or loved ones.

However, while these factors may cause sadness, they do not automatically lead to depression. Lets explore the difference between sadness and depression, as the important differences lead to distinctly different responses.


Understanding the difference between sadness and depression

Everyone will experience a time of unhappiness, loss or grief throughout their lifetime, leading to negative feelings and sadness. Experiencing these negative feelings in response to distressing events is entirely normal, however, these sad feelings tend to last for a limited time. It is normal to eventually ‘move on’, with memories of the negative feelings remaining, but not being an overbearing presence on a person’s day-to-day life.

Where sadness tends to last for a limited time, depression manifests as intense negative feelings for prolonged periods. The negative thoughts can go for weeks, months or even years and can affect a person’s daily thoughts, actions and decisions.

Signs of depression, beyond the limitations imposed by age:

  • Intense, ongoing negative feelings of sadness, that last for more than a couple of weeks
  • Intense, unnecessary feelings of anxiety
  • Loss of energy and constant tiredness
  • Changes in eating habits, weight gain or loss
  • Increases in the intensity of negative self-critical thoughts
  • Physical symptom like trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating and excessive sensitivity to pain
  • A sudden change in self-care and hygiene habits – no longer washing, cleaning, gardening, disposing of rubbish or taking care of a pet
  • Avoiding social interaction – no longer responding to phone calls, avoiding social outings or invites.


Talk It Out

It is important to understand that depression can be managed and treated. Treatments can include simple lifestyle changes (getting outside, being more socially active with family and friends) to psychological treatments and even medication.

One of the best things someone suffering from depression can do, is to simply talk about it with someone they trust. Bottling up emotions and feelings – ignoring any mental health symptoms – is likely to result in a worse outcome.

Having that first discussion with a trusted family member or friend is a good way to get the process started. However, if this is not an option, talking it out with a trained counsellor can help. Suicide Call Back Service counsellors are qualified professionals, trained to listen and help people develop ways of coping with things like depression and anxiety.


More information


If you need to talk to a counsellor, call Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.

If it is an emergency, dial 000.