I’ve been depressed the past two weeks. My team (the N.Y. Mets) has gone on an historically terrible stretch — losing more games in more terrible ways than any other team in baseball ever has(!)
So I looked up depression and seniors — all ready to post about the dangers of rooting for a losing team at a time in our lives where we are more susceptible to depression. And what did I find? Lies and coverups about whether aging leads to depression!
While rooting for the Mets (or the Knicks, Kings, Grizzlies, Bears, Jets, or Browns!) might very well make you depressed, reaching 60+ years old does NOT!
Percentage of people with depression
Age 12-17: 4.3%
Age 18-39: 4.7%
Age 40-59: 7.3%
Age 60+: 4.0%
Above are the official numbers from a research study by the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention). As you can see, 60+ has the LOWEST rate of depression of any age group — almost half the rate of those aged 40-59.
So why does mostly anything you read about depression seem to imply that seniors are more likely to be depressed? There appear to be some slights-of-hand:
- They talk numbers, not percents. The MHA (Mental Health in America) says, “More than two million of the 34 million Americans age 65 and older suffer from some form of depression.” (Sounds terrible(!), but run the numbers and that’s 5.9%. And note the “some form of…”.)
- They pull in less positive numbers. For example, I saw reports saying 7.7% of all people age 50+ are depressed. When did 50-59 become “old”? By combining the numbers for 50-59 into the 60+ numbers, you’re including much-more-likely-to-be-depressed people into your comments on “old” people. This makes sense if you’re trying to inflate numbers of older depressed people to get more funding for your programs!
Other reports skim right over the low percent of seniors likely to be depressed and jump right to some problem numbers. And there are problems for seniors when it comes to depression.
Depression and health problems
It’s no surprise that having serious health problems can increase your risks of depression. The CDC (who should know better because their own numbers show it isn’t true) says: “Older adults are at increased risk for depression.” They justify this by adding: “We know that about 80% of older adults have at least one chronic health condition, and 50% have two or more.” Well, I have one “chronic condition” — acid reflux. And I know others with it. It hasn’t made any of us depressed. The CDC should trust their research numbers showing seniors (which includes those with chronic conditions!) have the lowest levels of depression.
However, there are health problems that do increase risk of depression such as heart disease, cancer, dementia, and chronic pain. A shocking number to me was that, according to the MHA, nearly 25% of the 600,000 people who experience a stroke in a given year will experience clinical depression.
Depression and living factors
Having a spouse die on you is a big risk factor for depression. One third of widows/widowers (according to the MHA) are clinically depressed in the month after death — and half of those will still be depressed after one year.
Requiring home health care is another big risk factor for depression. The CDC reports that older people living in their communities range from 1-5% depressed, but that number rises to 11.5% in older people in a hospital, and 13.5% in older people who require home healthcare. I wish they’d also uncover the rates for those people living in assisted living and in nursing homes.
Depression lasts longer in older people
While we’re less likely to get depressed, it’s more likely to stay with us if we do get it. According to MedPage Today, older depression patients were more likely to remain depressed after two years and have more severe symptoms. These results held when all subjects experiencing dementia were removed from the study. And these results were only explained to a small degree by health, clinical and social factors.
Differences in treatment were hypothesized as part of the problem. While depressed older adults were more likely to use antidepressants (73% of the 70+ compared to 33% of those 18-29), studies show that antidepressants are less effective in older adults. (Or maybe the side effects of these medicines are increasing depression?)
Suicide and older people
Older adults make fewer suicide attempts than younger people. However, when we do attempt it, we mean it. We have a significantly higher rate of suicide completion. According to Everyday Health, people over age 65 make up 12 percent of the population, but account for 16 percent of all suicide deaths.
While women in general have higher rates of depression (6.7%) than men (4.0%), white males age 85 and older have the highest rate of suicide completion. Their 65.3 deaths per 100,000 persons is nearly six times the national suicide rate of 10.8 per 100,000.
Where you live can make you depressed
According to Health.com (2008), the states that are most likely to depress you are: Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and West Virginia. (Read their article — you’ll laugh at loud at their reasoning for Oklahoma, even though this isn’t a laughing matter.
Here’s a huge report by the CDC (2011), which tracks depression in three different ways by state. If you look at most days of depression in the last 30 days, here are the most depressing states: Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia.
So… should you dump your losing sports team?
My mother was a Chicago Cubs fan her whole life — all 89 years of it. They lost every year. She finally gave up on them in the last year before she died. Two years after she died, the Cubs won the World Series. Would she have been happier without her fandom? Not in my opinion. After all, she never saw them win it all, so she never really expected it.
If you’re a Mets fan, however, it’s a different story. The Mets won the World Series in 1969 and 1986. And they got there again in 2015. And they have the best starting rotation in baseball. Their hitting stinks. Why is nobody seeing this as a direct result of losing their best-in-baseball hitting coach of last year — Kevin Long?
I should just give up on the Mets — and spare myself the aggravation and depression. On the other hand, the team actually won a game last night. They shut out the hated Yankees. Maybe it’s turning around??
Marlene Jensen is a 71-year-old full-time marketing professor. Previously she was a VP at CBS and ABC and spent decades as an entrepreneur and pricing author/consultant. Sadly, none of these prepared her for the onslaught of marketers who now think her daily interests/needs consist solely of hearing aids, wheel chairs, adult diapers, medi-alert buttons, medications, and bath tubs you walk into.