How to Find Treatment Options for Geriatric Depression
It can be incredibly difficult to go through the many new challenges that come with getting older. Facing the loss of your spouse, family, and friends can be heartbreaking. Watching your health, mobility, or memory decline can be upsetting. No matter how distressing these challenges are, depression does not have to be a part of the equation.
Yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “an estimated 7 million of the nation’s 39 million adults aged 65 years and older are affected by depression.”
“Depression is a common problem among older adults, but it is NOT a normal part of aging. In fact, studies show that most older adults feel satisfied with their lives, despite having more illnesses or physical problems. However, important life changes that happen as we get older may cause feelings of uneasiness, stress, and sadness,” according to the National Institute on Aging. “For instance, the death of a loved one, moving from work into retirement, or dealing with a serious illness can leave people feeling sad or anxious. After a period of adjustment, many older adults can regain their emotional balance, but others do not and may develop depression.”
Barriers to Geriatric Depression Treatment
The GeneSight® Mental Health Monitor found that nearly two-thirds of seniors who have concerns about having depression will not seek treatment. In fact, nearly 33% of seniors who are concerned they might be suffering from depression believe they can “snap out” of it on their own.
“People will seek treatment for conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes,” said Mark Pollack, M.D., chief medical officer for Myriad Mental Health, maker of the GeneSight test. “Depression is no different. It is an illness that can and should be treated.”
Geriatric Depression Treatment
There are mental health professionals, known as geriatric psychiatrists and psychologists, that specialize in the treatment of depression in older adults. They are particularly trained to help guide older patients through their difficulties. Treatment options may include talk therapy, medication, support groups, lifestyle changes, or a combination of approaches.
“Geriatric psychiatrists focus on prevention, evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of mental and emotional disorders in the elderly and improvement of psychiatric care for healthy and ill elderly patients,” according to the American Psychiatric Association. They may consult with the patient’s other healthcare providers to determine how their physical health concerns may be affecting their mental health.
Finding a Geriatric Mental Health Provider
The first step in geriatric depression treatment is seeing a doctor. Depending on the type of treatment you are looking for, you may want to see a geriatric psychiatrist or psychologist. The primary difference between the two types of doctors comes down to medication. A psychiatrist can prescribe it, while a psychologist cannot. Therefore, the type of doctor you see depends on whether you need medications, therapy, or both.
If you decide that you would like to see a psychiatrist, you may need a referral from your primary care doctor. Schedule an appointment to explain the specific issues you are struggling with and what kind of help you are looking for. Be sure to be open and honest about your feelings so that your doctor can recommend someone that fits your precise needs. Your doctor may know someone who could be helpful to your situation, like a psychiatrist who specializes in grief from being widowed or life transitions. Ask for a list of options, so that you can do your own research to decide who you’d like to schedule an appointment with.
Some psychiatrists may not require a doctor’s referral. There are several companies that provide online therapy and do not require a referral to be matched with one of their psychiatrists. If you decide to go the online route, make sure you have the necessary technology, including a secure internet connection and a computer or phone with a video conferencing capability.
Depending on your insurance, you may not need a doctor’s referral to see a psychologist. You may want to contact your insurance company for a list of covered providers. You can directly contact a mental health treatment center to schedule an appointment. To find a psychologist near you, you can search on Psychology Today. On this website, you can insert your zip code and refine your search results based on the specific issues you need help with. Then, you can comb through the results and read psychologists’ bios until you find one who fits your needs.
For example, if you need help coping with the loss of your partner, you can refine your search to only include psychologists who specialize in grief counseling. You can narrow your search to someone who specializes in depression and anxiety. Additionally, you can refine the results by your insurance provider. Don’t be discouraged if the first provider you meet with isn’t right for you – sometimes it takes a couple of tries to find the best fit.
What to Look for in a Geriatric Mental Health Provider
In addition to considering the areas the mental health provider specializes in, Mayo Clinic suggests keeping these issues in mind:
- “Education, training, licensing and years in practice
- Treatment approaches and philosophy
- Which insurance providers they work with
- Office hours, fees and length of sessions”
Mayo Clinic recommends asking a lot of questions. Here are a few questions you may want to ask the provider you are considering:
- Do you accept my insurance?
- How much do you charge? Do you use a sliding scale for payments?
- Have you worked with someone with similar concerns to mine?
- What type of approach do you take?
- How frequently do you recommend we meet?
- How long will our sessions be?
Asking questions upfront may save you time in your search for the right match and allow for a better treatment experience.
Once you have selected a mental health professional, it’s time to schedule your first appointment. You will likely be invited to come in for an intake appointment. This is therapist lingo for an initial meeting where you will provide basic information about yourself and your background. During this appointment, you will give a brief history of your mental health journey and explain what led you to seek help. Afterward, if you both feel that you are a good fit for each other, you can schedule a follow-up appointment.
Geriatric Depression Treatment Support Groups
In addition to getting help from a professional, it may be helpful to join a support group. Support groups offer a place to comfortably share your feelings with peers who are going through a similar experience. By sharing your feelings in a trusted community, you can receive encouragement, understanding, information, and coping strategies. On top of that, you can make friends who understand what you are going through. In addition to medication and therapy, support groups can be a helpful avenue for receiving support and seeking advice.
“For many people, a health-related support group may fill a gap between medical treatment and the need for emotional support,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “A person’s relationship with a doctor or other medical personnel may not provide adequate emotional support, and a person’s family and friends may not understand the impact of a disease or treatment.”
According to Mayo Clinic, participating in a support groups may offer benefits such as:
- “Feeling less lonely, isolated or judged
- Reducing distress, depression, anxiety, or fatigue
- Talking openly and honestly about your feelings
- Improving skills to cope with challenges
- Staying motivated to manage chronic conditions or stick to treatment plans
- Gaining a sense of empowerment, control or hope
- Improving understanding of a disease and your own experience with it
- Getting practical feedback about treatment options
- Learning about health, economic or social resources”
Free support groups may be offered by nonprofit organizations, clinics, or hospitals. You can ask your doctor directly if they have a recommendation. Or you can search for groups on a nonprofit’s website. For in-person groups near you, National Alliance on Mental Illness can be a great resource. Additionally, Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance offers a wide range of options. They offer online groups as well as a seniors-only group led by certified peer support specialists.
For more information about depression in seniors, please read these blog posts:
Understand Geriatric Depression – https://genesight.com/blog/healthcare-provider/understanding-nuances-in-geriatric-depression-treatment/
Geriatric Depression Scale – https://genesight.com/blog/healthcare-provider/understanding-the-geriatric-depression-scale-for-seniors/
Seniors’ Response to Depression – https://genesight.com/news-and-press/suffering-in-silence-two-thirds-of-older-adults-say-they-wont-treat-their-depression/
Our articles are for informational purposes only and are reviewed by our Medical Information team, which includes PharmDs, MDs, and PhDs. Do not make any changes to your current medications or dosing without consulting your healthcare provider.
The GeneSight test must be ordered by and used only in consultation with a healthcare provider who can prescribe medications. As with all genetic tests, the GeneSight test results have limitations and do not constitute medical advice. The test results are designed to be just one part of a larger, complete patient assessment, which would include proper diagnosis and consideration of your medical history, other medications you may be taking, your family history, and other factors.
If you are a healthcare provider and interested in learning more about the GeneSight test, please call us at 855.891.9415. If you are a patient, please talk with your doctor to see if the GeneSight test may be helpful.