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7 Things You Should Know About Depression

The death of Robin Williams puts the spotlight on mental illness among older adults. Learn how depression can affect you —and what you can do about it

6. Older white men are among those with the highest risk of suicide

In white adults over 65, the rate of male suicides is more than five times greater than female suicides. While suicide rates for women decline after age 60, for men, the odds of taking their own life increase with age. Men over 85 had a suicide rate more than twice that of their younger counterparts.

Part of the problem may be that no one realizes they're so severely depressed. One of the leading causes of suicide in older adults is undiagnosed or untreated depression, according to the American Association of Suicidology.

"[O]lder depressed adults often have not received the help that they needed," says Kales. "They may be living alone and their health may be more fragile. This may contribute to higher suicide completion rates."

7. There is hope

Depression is an illness characterized by feelings of hopelessness, but Kales is quick to point out the good news: "Depression in older adults is generally highly treatable," she says.

In fact, a study published in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry found a 48 percent reduction in symptom severity among people over age 55 who received antidepressant medications as treatment for depression. Research also found that 72 percent of patients over age 65 who participated in cognitive behavioral therapy sessions found it useful. "A combination of medication and psychotherapy is highly effective for helping patients feel better," Kales says.

Jodi Helmer is a freelancer writer.

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