What Seniors Need to Know About Depression Treatment | Guest Post By Kimberly Hayes

An estimated 5 percent of older Americans live with depression, yet many never get treatment for the illness. In some cases, doctors and patients mistake depression symptoms as signs of other age-related conditions. In other instances, seniors are aware of their depression but don’t pursue treatment due to social stigma.

Many seniors forgo mental health treatment because they’re worried about the cost. However, Medicare provides a high level of coverage for depression. If you’re curious about depression treatment and whether it could help you, here’s what you need to know.

Could I be depressed?

If you’re experiencing the following symptoms, you may have depression:

  • Chronic sadness.
  • Excessive worry.
  • Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness.
  • Poor focus and memory problems.
  • Social withdrawal.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss.
  • Unexplained aches, pains, or digestive problems.

Depression is most common in seniors with chronic medical conditions or other difficult life circumstances, but anyone can develop depression. Certain medications are also associated with this mental illness.

What help is available for depression?

If you suspect you’re depressed, the first step is to make an appointment with your primary care doctor. Your general practitioner can perform a depression screening and refer you to mental health providers in the area. From there, you’ll receive therapy, medication, or both. Psychotherapy helps you examine factors contributing to your depression and develop the tools to change them. Medication focuses on correcting chemical imbalances in the brain. The right treatment choice depends on the underlying cause of your depression. Some people do best with a combination of therapy and medication. Whichever treatment you use, it’s important to commit to it long enough to see results. Self-help is also an effective tool for depression treatment. Certain lifestyle changes, like exercising more, eating well, getting enough sleep, and spending more time with friends, can improve mood and relieve depression symptoms. However, self-help isn’t a replacement for professional health care.

Does Medicare cover depression treatment?

Medicare covers many depression treatment services. Original Medicare covers one free depression screening annually. Medicare Part B covers psychiatric evaluation, medication management, and therapy with a 20% coinsurance and deductible applied. When inpatient mental health treatment is needed, Part A coverage begins after a $1,364 deductible. Coinsurance payments are required after the first 60 days of inpatient treatment. Medicare Advantage plans, sold by private insurers like Aetna, include the same mental health coverage as Original Medicare. This includes therapy and medication management from psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers. Medicare Advantage also has wellness programs that can help seniors develop depression self-management tools. And since Medicare Advantage bundles prescription drug coverage, there’s no need to worry about a separate Part D plan. However, covered medications still vary from plan to plan, so if you take antidepressants, review your plan during enrollment to ensure your medication is covered.

How can I find a mental health professional?

If you have Original Medicare, you can find a mental health professional who accepts Medicare by using the Physician Compare tool at Medicare.gov. Medicare Advantage plans use networks like traditional health insurance. If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, reach out to your insurance provider. Most have online tools that let you search for in-network providers, but you can also call for assistance. Not every doctor is a good fit for every patient. You may meet with multiple therapists before finding one you feel comfortable with. While online listings can narrow your list, don’t be afraid to switch providers if your needs aren’t being met. Treatment is more successful when you find a provider you connect with.

Left untreated, depression increases your risk of cognitive decline, illness, and death. That’s why it’s so important to take depression seriously and talk to a mental health professional if you suspect you’re depressed. By making mental health a priority, you can enjoy your later years with a healthy mind.