Depression affects over 350 million people worldwide. It affects people of all walks of life and all ages – including those at end of life.
The grief that comes with a terminal diagnosis is a normal and understandable reaction. However, for many terminally ill people, that grief and sadness can often develop into depression. This is particularly true for those who have had a past history with depression, added family or social stress, and struggle with addiction.
It is important to recognize when sadness becomes something more serious because depression – even in the terminally ill – is a treatable condition.
Symptoms of Depression in the Terminally Ill
The symptoms of depression at end of life are similar to those seen in anyone experiencing depression:
Changes in mood: Sadness, anxiety, guilt, hopelessness, and/or loss of interest in things that the individual used to enjoy.
Changes in sleep: Insomnia, excessive tiredness, and restless sleep.
Changes in appetite: Loss of appetite or interest in eating.
Changes in weight: Weight loss and weight gain are both common.
Changes in behavior: Crying, irritability, and agitation.
Changes in cognition: Inability to concentrate, moving more slowly, and thoughts of suicide.
It is important to be especially alert when depression is suspected in order to be able to discern whether certain symptoms such as weight loss or tiredness is a symptom of the terminal illness or a symptom of depression. One key thing to look for is whether the individual does not respond to pain medications as expected.
Treatment for Depression in the Terminally Ill
Treatment is available for depression in terminally ill patients. Medication and therapy can be prescribed to address their symptoms – just as it is for anyone experiencing depression. Talking through their concerns with a chaplain or social worker can also provide some much needed support.
It can also be helpful to discuss the patient’s goals. Even though the end of their life is near, they should be reminded that they are still here. The Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care team is trained to provide support to ensure that terminally ill patients have the best quality of life through all of their remaining days.
Thoughts of Suicide
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, get help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 to provide free and confidential support and crisis resources at 1-800-273-8255.
For more information about the physical and emotional changes at end of life, visit the Crossroads website.
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