WellPoint Offers Seniors Tips for Dealing with Holiday Depression
Overwhelming Sadness Is Not a Normal Part of Aging
INDIANAPOLIS -- December 11, 2013
Some people think sadness is a natural part of aging. After all, as people get
older, they are more likely to have health issues or lose loved ones. The
holiday season can sometimes make this grief even more acute. In these
instances, sadness can be normal. But it’s more than the holiday blues when it
persists to the point that it regularly interferes with daily life. Then it
might be depression, which is a problem.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines depression as “a
persistent sad, anxious, or empty feeling, or a feeling of hopelessness and
pessimism.”^1 According to a 2007 report, about seven million adults 65 and
older (roughly 15 to 20 percent of that population) are affected by
depression.^2 Despite its prevalence, depression is often not recognized or
treated because people are ashamed to discuss it. They may view depression as
a personal weakness or character flaw. That’s unfortunate. Left untreated,
depression can delay recovery or worsen the outcome of certain illnesses and
even lead to suicide. Although many people assume that the highest rates of
suicide are among young people, white males age 85 and older actually have the
highest suicide rate in the United States, according to the National Institute
of Mental Health.^3
“It should never to get to that point,” said Dr. Mary McCluskey, chief medical
officer of WellPoint’s Government Business Division. “Depression can be
successfully treated. There are many programs available at no or low cost as
part of a Medicare or Medicare Advantage (MA) plan to help.”
McCluskey offers the following tips and resources for Medicare members who
have, or think they may have, depression.
Get Screened. Routine screening can successfully identify people who are
depressed and direct them to appropriate treatment.^4 Medicare covers the cost
of depression screening in a primary care physician’s office, as long as the
provider has resources to follow up with appropriate treatment and referrals.
Additionally, depression screening is typically covered in a “Welcome to
Medicare” visit or an “Annual Wellness Visit.” Depression is evaluated with a
screening tool, such as the Patient Health Questionnaire, or PHQ-9, which
includes questions about the patient’s mood, energy, appetite and sleep
Consider Treatment. When someone has been diagnosed with depression, their
doctor may prescribe antidepressant medication for them. Medicare Part D and
Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plans, like those administered by
WellPoint’s affiliates, cover most anti-depressant medications. This includes
selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which affect the brain’s
neurotransmitters. Since different medications affect different
neurotransmitters, it may take time to find the one that works best so it is
important to be patient. Take the medication as prescribed and watch for any
side effects, such as trouble with balance. To be safe, remove all fall
hazards from the home. Drug copays may apply. Low-income members may qualify
for extra help with payment for their drugs.
Some people may prefer talk therapy to medication. Talk therapy can be
effective in treating mild to moderate depression.^5 Therapy also can be
effective when combined with medication. Medicare typically covers visits with
mental health experts, including a psychiatrist, a clinical psychologist or a
clinical social worker. Copayments or coinsurance may apply. Talk to your
doctor about a referral for therapy.
Be Active. Exercising three times a week can be effective in relieving major
depression among seniors and decreasing the chances of depression returning,
according to a study by Duke University Medical Center.^6 Walking, gardening,
dancing and swimming are all good forms of exercise. Many MA plans include a
free gym membership as well as classes with other seniors.
Avoid Alcohol. It’s not uncommon for seniors to self-medicate with alcohol as
a way of coping with loneliness or chronic pain. However, alcohol is actually
a depressant that can compound depression. Medicare provides outpatient
substance abuse counseling for people who need help to quit drinking.
Some Medicare members have access to a behavioral health service through their
plan. In other instances, this benefit can be purchased for a small premium.
Community mental health centers and social workers also may be able to provide
services. Anyone in crisis should call the National Suicide Prevention
Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). TTY users should call
1-800-799-4TTY (1-800-799-4889). The service is free and confidential.
Counselors are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be
interpreted as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider for
advice about treatments that may affect your health.
WellPoint affiliates are PPO plans, HMO plans and PDP plans with a Medicare
contract. Enrollment in WellPoint affiliated plans depends on contract
renewal. The benefit information provided is a brief summary, not a complete
description of benefits. For more information, contact the plan. Limitations,
copayments, and restrictions may apply. Benefits, formulary, pharmacy network,
provider network, premium and/or co-payments/co-insurance may change on Jan. 1
of each year. You must continue to pay your Medicare Part B premium. The
SilverSneakers Fitness Program is provided by Healthways, Inc., an independent
company. SilverSneakers® is a registered mark of Healthways, Inc. Please check
with your doctor before you start a physical activity program.
^1 http://www.cdc.gov/aging/pdf/CIB_mental_health.pdf, accessed November 21,
^2 Steinman, 2007: Steinman LE, Frederick JT, et al. Recommendations for
treating depression in community-based older adults. Am J Prev Med
2007;33(3):175–81. Available at
^4 http://www.cdc.gov/aging/pdf/CIB_mental_health.pdf, accessed Nov. 21, 2013
accessed Nov. 21, 2013
^6 http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Depression/story?id=117946&page=1, accessed
Nov. 21, 2013
Doug Bennett Jr., (502) 889.2103
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