Do Older Women Cope Differently With Depression?

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated March 6, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The CDC estimates that 20% of people 55 or older experience depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions. In addition, statistics show that boomer women are at a higher risk for suicide than women in other age categories. Women born between 1946 and 1964 fall in the "baby boomer" generation.

To understand this statistic, it may be helpful to look at factors that are more present in the lives of boomer women than those in other stages of life. A few challenges women in this age group may experience are chronic age-related physical illnesses, bodily changes, the loss of loved ones, financial stress, and loss of identity in later life.

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Depression can feel isolating

Generational differences in mental health statistics 

Millennials (born from 1981 to 1996) have been referred to as the "most depressed generation." Although statistically accurate, millennials are not much more depressed than other generations. This statistic illustrates that depression affects people of all ages. However, there are many misconceptions about who can be impacted, and some people may believe that older generations do not experience mental illness. 

Millennials may be quicker to address symptoms of depression if they have received more education about mental health challenges. American millennials have grown up in a period when it is more common to talk openly about mental health. The stigma associated with depression has lessened in some respects over the years.  

These statistics do not necessarily mean millennials cope better with stress, just that they live with different challenges. According to Pew Research, millennial women are more educated, with 39% having bachelor's degrees compared to 25% of boomers. In addition, millennial women are often paid more. 

Some boomers are unable or reluctant to retire.  A 2022 report from the US Census Bureau found that around 55% of women age 55 to 64 don't have enough savings to retire. The unstable economic climate and the high cost of living may cause them to work longer. In addition, boomers lived under significant pressure to take a life path of motherhood and being a "housewife," which led many to rely on their spouses for financial and emotional support. 

Factors that impact boomer mental health 

Below are a few of the factors that may lead to the development of depression in women who are over 55 or part of the baby boomer generation. 

Financial stressors

People in the boomer generation who lost jobs during the COVID-19 recession experienced more difficulty trying to find new jobs due to ageism and the lack of well-paying jobs available to those later in their careers. Financial troubles were among the highest reasons for depression boomers reported during this time. 

The level of unemployment among boomers is the main reason for the overall rise in suicide rates since 2005. Many also lost their retirement savings with the stock market losses, with much less time in the workforce to regain those earnings.

Sudden loss of wealth may increase the likelihood of depression for older adults. In some instances, these individuals won't experience long-term depression, but situational depression is experienced during a transitional period after challenging news like a job loss. Loss of wealth can also be due to increasing healthcare costs, which complicates the diagnosis of a physical health condition.

The transition to retirement can also contribute to depression, as work may have fulfilled a vital, often central, focus of one's life for many years. Not working can feel like a void, even if you feel you have waited your whole life to be able to enjoy retirement. Some boomers may experience regret when reflecting on their lives, even if they did their best. Feeling that one's dreams aren't obtainable can contribute to this sense.

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Loss of health and loved ones

In later stages of life, individuals may experience significant losses of health and the health of loved ones. No matter how old one is or how many times they have had to say goodbye to a loved one, grief can be challenging to cope with. In addition, it can be difficult to begin contemplating your mortality, which may happen as your age advances. At this stage of life, a boomer woman may live alone for the first time if her partner has passed, she is single, or her children have moved out (if she has children). 

In addition, the correlation between chronic illness and depression has been documented. Women are more likely to experience an illness later in life that limits their ability to participate in daily activities, stay socially active, and experience positive thoughts. One study of boomer women found that the most common factor related to poor mental health was limited activities due to decreased mobility from aging. Disabilities also led to a diminished feeling of self-worth. 

Finding professional support in older age 

Although older women are at a higher risk of depression, this statistic may be due to stigmas surrounding reaching out for support. Older women may believe they should work through their challenges alone, which can compound symptoms. Others may not pick up on the individual's declining mental health without social support. 

According to the CDC website, in 2021, nearly 22% of adults had received mental health treatment over the 12 months prior. However, the percentage of people seeking mental health treatment decreased with age.  Some older women could be reluctant to seek help due to the stigma surrounding mental health that was repeated to them throughout their lifetime. 

However, studies have proven that therapy can be highly effective for older women with depression. One systematic review of several studies looked at the effectiveness of several different types of therapy for adults aged 60 and older. The review found that several forms of therapy, including cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and interpersonal therapy (IPT), all yielded significant results. 

Problem-solving therapy, which helps teach individuals with depression how to cope healthily with challenging events, works better than other treatments for some individuals. In addition, psychodynamic psychotherapy, which focuses on the psychological roots of emotional challenges, was found to be as effective as CBT, and 70% of clients who received psychotherapy through this modality remained in remission after two years. 

Getty/AnnaStills
Depression can feel isolating

Alternative support options 

Whether you are a boomer, a millennial, a Gen Z, or somewhere in between, seeking support is not shameful. Over 41.7 million US adults see a therapist, and many are older people. Depression is a serious mental illness and can have serious symptoms, so reaching out for support can be vital. 

Some older individuals may face barriers to finding support, including embarrassment, social anxiety, or difficulty leaving home. In these cases, it may benefit you to try an online platform like BetterHelp. These platforms allow you to seek help and guidance from the comfort of your home and offer additional benefits, including convenience, safety, and more options for therapists, allowing you to find someone who fits your needs.

Studies have also backed up the effectiveness of online therapy. One study found that internet-based platforms could be more effective than in-person options for treating depression in all age groups. These results and the convenience of meeting from home can make online therapy an attractive option for some older adults. 

Takeaway

Anyone can experience mental health challenges at any stage of life, and women in the baby boomer generation are no exception. If you're looking for support with depressive symptoms, you're not alone. Consider contacting a provider online or in your area for further guidance.
Depression is treatable, and you're not alone
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