Service Above Self

Preventing Depression As We Age

It’s not uncommon to know someone who is dealing with depression.  If you’ve never experienced depression, you are rare. What medical research tells us is that depression is widespread and should not be stigmatized. New statistics note that mental health issues including depression affect at least 32.4% of the world’s population. But what is it, exactly? And how can we keep from getting depressed?
Depression is a prevalent and often misunderstood mental health condition that affects millions of adults worldwide. It can be debilitating, but with the right knowledge and support, it is manageable. It is characterized by persistent sadness, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, and a range of physical and emotional symptoms.

What Causes Depression?

The causes are many. Physical triggers, such imbalances in brain chemistry, genetics, and brain injuries to name a few. Stressful life events, trauma, chronic illnesses, or substance abuse can also trigger or exacerbate depression. Low self-esteem, perfectionism, and a history of other mental health conditions may also contribute to depression. A frequent precipitating factor in depression is also chronic pain. Many older adults suffer from chronic pain. It’s important to be mindful of how this can drag you into depression. Avoiding the pitfall will take serious planning and the best of pain management techniques. These include non-traditional pain treatments, meditation, journaling, and consistent emotional support. One danger of traditional pain treatment is narcotic pain medication dependency. Doctors prescribe what they think will help, and it has side effects. They then add more medication to address the side effects. That can lead to other issues and more medication is added. Sometimes the overall result is depression.

How Depression Shows Up

When you get depressed, you may feel persistent sadness or emptiness, loss of interest in things you used to enjoy, fatigue and low energy, and changes in appetite or weight. You may have trouble sleeping either falling asleep or staying asleep or sleeping too much. You may feel hopelessness or helpless to change things. Depressed people often have difficulty concentrating or making decisions. At its worst, depressing leads to thoughts of death or suicide. Depression can be quite serious, and even life-threatening if a person who experiences it does not get the help they need.
As you know Rotary International President Gordon McAnally has inspired us to think about Creating Hope in the World and we can do so by ensuring we are practicing caring for ourselves and others this Rotary year.  Each month we will take a moment to share a mental health moment to inspire you on how you can practice caring for yourself and others.  In addition, District 5150 has taken a pledge to focus on mental health and has a group of committed Rotarians working towards making a difference in the arena of mental health here in our own district.
If you are interested in being a part of the discussion and solution, please join us. Our next meeting is October 10, 2023 for our first in person meeting with a great panel of speakers.  Sign Up Here In addition, we all have the opportunity to join a Rotary team for NAMIwalks in both Marin on October 7th and San Mateo on October 14th. We are also starting a Rotary Men’s Support Group which starts on October 19th at 7pm. This will be a safe place for men to discuss family and life issues and provide support for one another.  Email Jeff Slavitz for more information.  Lastly, on October 26th at 7pm.  Members will be attending a presentation from Dr Insel who is the former director of National Institute of Mental Illness. He will be highlighting the issues of the broken mental health system. For more information click here.


What Helps?

A combination of talk therapy and medication seems to be most successful in treating various forms of depression. We hope that the stigma attached to seeking therapy will eventually be gone, but it still persists for many today. “I’m not crazy” can be an excuse to avoid seeking help. And “I can figure it out myself” is another excuse. Neither is a successful strategy. With these avoidance tactics, depression can persist, and with it, long-lasting misery. Talk therapy is a smart first step. There are many new and low-cost options available online and via applications, making finding the support you need easier than ever before.

Symptoms Indicating Depression Mental Health Professionals May See

Depression can also manifest itself as anxiety, without one feeling “down” and sad. For men, particularly, depression often presents as uncontrolled states of anger. Men tend to express anger and rage which covers up a deep and profound sense of sadness or loneliness. Women tend to be more transparent, their depression manifests as sadness, helplessness, and lack of desire to do things they once enjoyed. 

Caregiving for Loved Ones

Full-time caregiving, often by a spouse or family member for an impaired, dependent elder is a huge job. Those who take on this responsibility are at high risk for depression. One resource suggests that 40-70% of full-time caregivers at home show symptoms of depression. For anyone in a caregiving role, it is very important to take proactive steps to prevent this from happening. These include getting regular emotional support from other family, friends or therapists, taking the time to exercise, meditate, get appropriate sleep and nutrition and to take breaks. These preventive “self-care” strategies are every bit as important as caregiving itself. As we age, we may find ourselves in the caregiver role. Be mindful about how the job can have a personal mental health consequence for you and others around you.

The Benefit of Rotary

Rotary Club membership can clearly offer a sense of purpose for those involved. There is a mission, many project groups with whom to participate, scheduled meetings and other events, and a social aspect of fellowship available. All these benefits can be considered a defense against depression. No matter what a person’s life circumstances may be, the structure, purpose, and connections formed in a rotary club can foster good mental health. The “Service Above Self” mission can protect anyone from feelings of isolation, loss of purpose, lack of structure, and hopelessness. Rotary is not a magical cure for depression, but it can certainly help those at risk to avoid falling into it and losing hope. The sense of a worldwide effort Rotarians participate in to make the world a better place for all humanity is always rewarding and uplifting.


Many adults face a risk of depression. It is a complex and challenging condition, but it is treatable. Understanding its causes, recognizing its symptoms, and seeking professional help are critical steps toward recovery. When you recognize the risk factors and perhaps see them looming in your own life, your smart, proactive steps to prevent the worst from happening will be effective. Should you find yourself feeling those things this article describes as typical of depression, please don’t let common excuses get in your way. Have the courage to admit the suffering. Recognize if for what it is. Reach out, find a competent therapist and get moving toward healing.
About the author:  Dr. Mikol Davis is a proud Rotarian of Mission San Rafael Rotary Club in District 5150.  He is a member of the Rotarian Action Group for Mental Health.