Depression is a complex mental illness, that leads to a pervasive sense of low mood, negative thoughts, or sadness. Depression can impact on a person’s ability to seek help and also have an impact on their work, family and social life, and their physical health. Its cause is unclear and likely a combination of factors, including changes in the brain, major challenging life events, especially if these occur over a longer period of time, and individual factors, like family history, other medical conditions, drugs and alcohol use, and a person’s underlying personality.
Importance for PLHIV50+
Depression is common and affects over a million Australians. It occurs more frequently in women than men, and is common in older people. Studies suggest that people living with HIV are twice as likely to experience depression as the general population. This risk might be higher around time of diagnosis, if their HIV is diagnosed late, or is causing multiple symptoms. Similarly, people in the LGBTQI+ community are more likely to experience depression and suicide than the general population.
Factors that might put a person at risk of depression are having a family history of depression, childhood trauma or parental loss, abusive relationships, substance abuse, limited social support or isolation, limited education and employment, chronic medical problems, and a loss of independence.
A person with depression might experience a number of symptoms or exhibit different signs with varying degrees of severity. Feelings of sadness, irritability, hopelessness, or even an inability to describe their feelings might be symptoms of depression. People with depression might experience changes in their appetite, weight, energy levels or sleeping patterns. They might lose interest in things that they previously enjoyed, and withdraw from social activities. They might describe fatigue, difficulty concentrating, or a sense of worthlessness or guilt. Occasionally a person with depression might think about harming themselves, death or suicide. It can be challenging to diagnose depression in older people, as it may manifest with unusual symptoms, like memory loss, or with unexplained physical symptoms.
How to seek help
If you are worried that you or someone else might have depression, it is important to seek help as early as possible. Your healthcare provider will ask a series of questions, and try to assess what type of depression you are experiencing, its severity and factors that might be contributing to your experience. This may also involve a physical examination and some additional tests to make sure that there aren’t any other systemic factors that might be contributing. Some online services offer screening questionnaires
There are lots of effective treatments for depression, but no “one-size fits all” approach. Treatments often involve psychologists, while medications like antidepressants are sometimes helpful for people for the short or longer term. Some people find support groups helpful. Most people find that a combination approach works best.