Five things you didn’t know about depression in your 50s, plus five ways to treat it and new research

The bad news is that people in their 50s are more likely than other age groups to suffer from depression, but the good news is that there are many ways to treat it.

We’ve put together a list of some surprising facts about depression, plus some of the treatment options.

Five things you didn’t know about depression

1. People over 50 may be more likely than other age groups to have the illness. According to a Gallup poll into treatment for depression in the US last year, 14 per cent of people born between 1946 and 1964 say they are currently being treated for depression – more than any other age group.

2. JK Rowling, Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry, Alastair Campbell and Jim Carrey are all in their fifties, and have spoken about suffering from depression. Many have said that working has helped them overcome it, with Emma Thompson telling Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs that writing the screenplay for Sense and Sensibility helped her to feel better.

“The only thing I could do was write. I used to crawl from the bedroom to the computer and just sit and write, and then I was alright, because I was not present. Sense and Sensibility really saved me from going under, I think, in a very nasty way.”

3. On average, a single untreated episode of depression lasts nine months and symptoms include fatigue, loss of happiness, guilt, low self-esteem, poor concentration and physical complaints.

4. In the UK, 17 per cent of people have depression, anxiety or a mixture of the two. That equates to one in six people, so it’s likely that someone you know or work with is suffering from one or the other.

5. Depression can be triggered by a range of things: bereavement, divorce, redundancy or money worries, according to the NHS, or the cumulative effects of several events. There is no full scientific explanation as to what causes it, but there is growing evidence that neuroinflammation (inflammation in the nervous tissue) is behind the symptoms of a major depressive episode.

Last year, research published in JAMA Psychiatry suggested that TSPO – a marker for neuroinflammation – may be higher in patients with depression. “It’s a very early, microscopic marker, but the first time TSPO has been linked to a mental illness,” says psychiatrist Dr Amanda Redvers.

The scientists who conducted the research say it is “the most compelling evidence to date” that brain inflammation is involved in depression, making it an important step in improving clinical treatment.

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Five ways to treat depression

1.  See your GP immediately.  You can also take the NHS mood assessment quiz, which asks about how you’ve been feeling over the past two weeks, tiredness, ability to concentrate and low mood.

2. You may be offered anti-depressants, likely to be an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor), either fluoxetine (brand name Prozac), citalopram (Cipramil), paroxetine (Seroxat) or sertraline (Lustral). These work by increasing the amount of serotonin released by the brain, a neurotransmitter thought to improve mood and emotion.

“In a depressed mind, everything is multiple shades of grey. An SSRI turns up the colour,” says Dr Tim Evans, a GP and medical director at private members’ club Grace Belgravia in London.

3. Dr Evans advocates a holistic approach to treating depression, as does NICE (the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence), which recommends a combination of drugs and cognitive behavioural therapy.

4. You may also wish to help yourself, with a series of online courses recommended by the NHS treat both depression and anxiety.

5. Good nutrition and exercise are important too. Studies into the effect of omega-3 on depression suggest that this fatty acid, found in mackerel, salmon and fresh tuna, can reduce symptoms of depression.

If you don’t think you’re getting enough omega-3 from food, speak to a trained advisor about omega-3 supplements, such as Equazen.

A study last year into the effect of physical exercise on stress-induced depression by Swedish university Karolinska Instituet suggested that exercise may help detox the brain of certain chemicals that can contribute to depression.

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