Critter Corner: Help for Depression in Seniors During Mental Health Awareness Month

Dear Angel,

I have been home since the Coronavirus pandemic began and still haven’t ventured out. Recently, I’ve been feeling sad and withdrawn. Things that used to interest me don’t anymore and I can’t sleep at night. Is this a normal part of getting older? Does Medicare cover treatment of depression?

Thanks for your help!

Phil N. Saad

Dear Phil,

I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been experiencing these feelings of sadness. Hopefully, I can help point you in the right direction so you can get the help you need to feel better!

Contrary to some stereotypes about aging, depression is not a “normal” part of getting older. It is a medical problem that affects many older adults and can often be successfully treated. A recent study from the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry found that 27% of older adults met the criteria for a diagnosis of major depression, and 31% had symptoms of depression that didn’t qualify as a diagnosable disorder, but significantly impacted their lives, so you are certainly not alone.

Currently, one in five people will experience a mental health illness, such as depression, during their lifetime. Mental Health Awareness Month is a nationwide effort to address and overcome the stigma associated with mental health needs. Everyone faces challenges in life that can impact their mental health, especially now. Luckily, there are resources and help available for those experiencing mental health concerns, such as depression.

Depression is often under-recognized and under-treated in older adults.

Without treatment, depression can impair an older adult’s ability to function and enjoy life, and can contribute to poorer overall health. Compared to older adults without depression, those with depression often need greater assistance with self-care and daily living activities, and often recover more slowly from physical disorders.

Screening For Depression

A quick and easy way to determine if you may be experiencing depression is to take a mental health screening. Be sure to ask your primary care doctor to do a screening at your next visit. One screening is covered each year by Medicare.

At a screening for depression, a mental health expert will assess your symptoms, mood, behavior, day-to-day activities, and family health history. They will ask:

how long you’ve been feeling depressed;
what brought on the depression;
if you’ve experienced depression in the past.

A person must display symptoms of depression for at least two weeks to be diagnosed with the condition.

Treatment Options

The most common and effective treatment for depression is a combination of therapy and medication, but some people may benefit from just one form of treatment.  

Medicare Helps Cover Mental Health Services

Worrying about health insurance costs should never be a barrier to treatment. For more details about Medicare and depression, please click here. Here is what is covered by Medicare, when it comes to mental health:

Medicare Part A

Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) helps cover mental health care if you’re a hospital inpatient. Part A covers your room, meals, nursing care, and other related services and supplies.

Medicare Part B

Medicare Part B (medical insurance) helps cover mental health services that you would get from a doctor as well as services that you generally would get outside of a hospital, such as visits with a psychiatrist, clinical psychologist, or clinical social worker, and lab tests ordered by your doctor. Part B may also pay for partial hospitalization services if you need intensive coordinated outpatient care.

Medicare Part D

Medicare Part D (prescription drug coverage) helps cover drugs you may need to treat a mental health condition.

Seek Treatment if You Are Depressed

If you think you may be depressed, be sure to seek treatment so you can go back to living a full, happy life once again! If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). You can call and speak with a counselor 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call 911 if you’re in immediate medical crisis.

Hope this helps!


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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.

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