Persistent symptoms of depression are not “normal” for patients at the end of life. These feelings are usually present for a relatively short period (days to weeks), and then resolve and then recur some time later. These feelings may be connected to experiences of situational depression. However, in a variable number of patients (between 25% and 77%, depending on the study), these feelings persist . Depression in patients can be related to feelings of loss, unrelieved physical symptoms and pain, limited social and financial support, decreased physical functioning, medications and medical problems, concerns about being a burden, and spiritual distress.
The earlier depression is diagnosed, the more responsive to treatment it is likely to be. Treatment for depression may help patients feel better and have the energy and interest to achieve their final goals before they die.
Unfortunately, in our society, depression is often viewed as something to be ashamed of, or as a sign of weakness. Through patient and family education, the physician can help correct this misconception.