Everyone gets low moods from time to time, but if these feelings don’t go away, it could be a sign of depression. Knowing what to look out for and where you can go for help can be the first steps toward feeling better.
What is depression?
Depression is a common mental health problem that affects around 1 in 5 older people. It might include a low mood, feeling hopeless or losing enjoyment for things. But depression also has many other symptoms you might not expect.
How you might feel
It can be hard to tell if you have depression because how it feels and what it looks like can vary from person to person. You might experience a range of thoughts and feelings. For example, you might:
stop enjoying the things that you used to enjoy
find it hard to concentrate
feel helpless or hopeless
become irritable around other people, or avoid them
feel sad or have a low mood that doesn’t lift
have problems with your memory.
Older people with depression can experience more physical symptoms. This might mean you:
It’s easy to blame yourself if you’re feeling low, but remember that depression is not your fault. Any difficult setback or life change can affect our mental health and make us more vulnerable to becoming depressed.
Your feelings of depression may be set off by bereavement or loss, feeling lonely or isolated, a period of ill health or by certain medications. Sometimes, you may find there’s no clear reason for feeling depressed.
Depression and dementia
Depression shares some symptoms with dementia, such as memory problems or difficulty concentrating. You may worry that you have dementia when you’re actually depressed. It may also make it harder to diagnose depression if you already have dementia.
Often, periods of low mood won’t last long. If there’s an obvious cause, your mood may lift once the problem is resolved. But it’s okay to seek help at any time, whether you’ve just started feeling low or you’ve been finding things difficult for some time.
You might want to consider support if:
you have negative feelings that are getting worse or last more than two weeks
the symptoms are interfering with your daily life
your family and friends are worried
you’ve fixed a practical problem that might have caused your depression, but you still feel down
you’re having thoughts of self-harm or thinking that life isn’t worth living.
If you feel you can't go on
If you start to feel that life isn’t worth living or that you want to harm yourself, get help immediately.
If your life is at risk, call 999 and ask for an ambulance.
You don’t have to have physical symptoms to speak to your GP about your health. If you’re experiencing low mood or depression, your GP will be able to assess your situation and talk about treatment options with you. They might suggest:
talking therapies, such as counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
medication, including antidepressants
self-help resources and activities, such as support groups, online tools and books
a combination of these things.
It’s a good idea to write down everything you want to say to the GP so you don’t forget during the appointment. Our medical appointment planner can help you start. You might find it helpful to have a friend or relative with you for support when you see your GP.
Treatments for depression
There are lots of treatments available to help with depression. They can be very effective, even if you’ve been feeling low for a long time.
Talking therapies usually involve speaking to a trained therapist about your thoughts, feelings and experiences. They can help you find ways to manage the difficulties you’re having. There are different types, including:
Your GP can refer you for NHS services, which may be offered one-to-one, in a group, over the phone or online. In England, you can also refer yourself.
You can read more about talking therapies and how to access them at:
you've finished a short course of NHS therapy but want more support
you want more choice.
This might not be an option for everyone because it can be expensive. The cost can vary a lot, so it’s worth looking around.
Your GP should be able to help you find a therapist. You could also contact:
Make sure your therapist is accredited by a professional body, such as the BACP.
Your GP might offer you medication, such as antidepressants. They should tell you how long you may need to take it and about possible side effects. It’s important to check that any new medication will work well with anything you’re already taking.
Make sure you follow your GP’s advice for any medication you’ve been prescribed. If you want to take a lower dose or stop completely, talk to your GP first, even if you’re feeling better. Coming off some medications, such as antidepressants, can cause withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking them too quickly. Mind has more information about antidepressants.
Find support in your community
Local organisations may offer counselling or have support groups, where people with shared experiences help each other. These include:
Ask your GP or counsellor for recommendations of self-help resources that you can do in your own time. They might suggest books, audio guides or online services.
You can find free, practical tools on the NHS websites to help you with your mental health and wellbeing at:
stay in touch with others – you may want to avoid others, but feeling lonely can add to depression. Try to stay in touch with people, even if it feels like an effort at first. It can help you feel more positive
look after your physical health – how you feel physically can affect your mental health. Try to get enough sleep and eat a balanced diet, with plenty of fruit and vegetables
keep active – you might not feel in the mood for exercising, but research shows that it can boost your mood and self-confidence. It’s okay to start small – a short walk in the park or simple chair exercises, for example – and gradually do more as you start to feel better
do something you enjoy – it might feel hard at first, but doing things you enjoy, such as watching your favourite film or pursuing a hobby, can help lift your spirits
take things slowly – it can be hard to make decisions when you’re feeling depressed. If you can, try to avoid making big changes, such as moving house, until you feel more like yourself.
Feeling better can take time, so take things slowly. Try to be kind to yourself on both the good and bad days.