Rate this page


Older men and depression

Depression affects people of all ages. It is not an inevitable or normal aspect of ageing, although some of the changes that may accompany ageing, such as poor health and the loss of peers and loved ones, may contribute to it. Depression is a medical condition related to changes in the chemistry of the brain. It is more severe and enduring than simple sadness or low mood. It is also different from the sadness of grief, which is a healthy response to loss.

What causes depression?

Depression is related to changes in the levels of certain chemicals in the brain. These changes can make the depression very difficult to break out of without treatment. Depression can be brought on by external circumstances. In older men, difficulty adjusting to retirement, chronic illness, the death of a spouse, and financial stress are common experiences that can contribute to the development of depression. 

What are the signs?

Depression is often experienced as a persistently low or sad mood that has lasted longer than two weeks. Other possible symptoms of depression include:

  • Anxiety
  • Memory loss, slowing of thought, and difficulty making decisions
  • Negative thoughts, such as feelings of worthlessness and guilt
  • Physical symptoms, including weakness, headaches and sleeping problems 

Depression is often not recognised by relatives and friends of older people because the symptoms may be interpreted as normal aspects of the ageing process.

Hiding depression

Men in general, and older men in particular, tend to hide or deny their depression. This is often due to cultural ideas about manhood suggesting that men should keep their feelings to themselves and that mental health problems are a sign of personal weakness (see Men and Emotions). Men who hold strongly to these traditional ideas about masculinity may be very reluctant to seek help or even admit to feeling sad. They may focus on physical symptoms rather than their emotions. Some older men also fear being labelled as 'crazy' if they talk to a doctor about their mental condition.

The reluctance to admit to or seek help for depression means that many older men suffer from untreated depression. Untreated depression is probably responsible for the suicide of many older men.


Depression is very treatable, although in older people treatment may take somewhat longer to work than in young people. On average, depression takes twelve weeks to improve in older people once treatment is commenced. The most effective form of treatment for depression is a combination of anti-depressant medications and psychotherapy. Psychotherapy usually involves working with the therapist to change some of the negative thought habits that may contribute to depression.

Helping yourself

Here are some simple things you can do to reduce your risk of depression and improve your mood:

  • Eat healthily and regularly.
  • Take one day at a time and avoid worrying too much about the future.
  • Make sure you get some regular exercise, such as doing a daily walk. Exercise releases 'happy chemicals' in the brain which help combat depression, and may be as effective as anti-depressant medication.
  • Keep in touch with friends and family. One of the biggest risk factors for depression in older people is social isolation.
  • Talk to others about how you're feeling. It could be a GP, friend or counsellor.
  • Get involved. Join a club or social group, do some volunteer work with your church or a charity group.
  • Take up a new hobby or do some further study.
  • Think positive. An optimistic outlook, focussing on what you have rather than what you don't, helps to protect against depression.
  • Most importantly: Don't suffer in silence. If you think you might be depressed, talk to someone today (see getting help below). 

Getting help and information

The following are some sources of more information about depression.


beyondblue — the National Depression Initiative

Information and referral to treatment providers.
1300 22 46 36


MensLine Australia

Counselling for men with relationship and family concerns
1300 78 99 78


General telephone counselling
13 11 14

Author: Pierz Newton-John 

Add a comment

  • *
  • *

Please do not post questions or requests for help here as we are unable to respond. Please email talkitover@mensline.org.au instead, or post website feedback on our feedback page

User comments

Garry Rose
11-Sep-12 08:38 AM
Depression can get you any time, having a good network of friends can help.
Colin Shepherd
02-Mar-12 05:18 PM
I Do find sites like this interesting, and I know something has to be done about the growing number of people with depression, however, if like myself, someone is truly seeking help, then most of what is found on these sites are not much help for someone actually going through a real low in a depressive state, the numbers that provided, ie lifeline, and especially Beyond Blue might well play there role in the broader scheme of depression, but they are designed by well meaning individuals with no real grasp of the cognative capabilities of a person inflicted with such a horrible illness.I have had cause to ring lifeline, and suicide helpline, only to hear a "recorded message" that my call is important to them, but it's not that important to the government to allow enough funding to staff the call centres????, I made a serious attempt at suicide after ringing both those numbers, and had it not been for the type of pills I overdosed on I would not be here to give the feedback. I am "Lucky"( because I had spoken to so many educated, yet not very wise psycologistsand professionals) to have found a very very good psycologist.Why am I lucky?, I told her after a few visits, that she was the last professional I would open up to, as it was just too exausting to find real help. And I really did believe that the majority of professionals out there were after nothing more than money, and had lost sight of whatever reason they ever got into that field. People don't like negative feedback, but honesty is the only way things will change, I do hope this all makes sense.
23-Aug-11 01:05 AM
Many people see our eyes full of pain of loss of family and wife,yrs of lonliness with only one mind for support.Smile and try to walk a mile in MR Smiles shoes.we all have a story to tell.live in hope.