The staff of Boomerang thanks Mindy Vance, Special Populations Administrator, and Mark Hurst, M.D., Medical Director, of the Ohio Department of Mental Health for contributing this article.
As people age, life events occur that are specific to each developmental period. Beginning in middle adulthood, possible life changes include children leaving home, retirement, fluctuating financial status, divorce and loss. These events can trigger reactions ranging from excitement to anger to relief. It is normal to have strong emotions when faced with extreme stress, and major life changes certainly can cause extreme stress. It is estimated that 7 million older adults currently experience moderate to severe depression.
Here are some things you can do to deal with stress and depression:
- Recognize the things that you can control and things that you can't. If you focus on dealing with those you can control, you will be in better control and feel better.
- Help your neighbors. Helping others is one of the best ways to help yourself.
- Take care of yourself as best as you can: eat healthy foods, sleep on a regular schedule and get some exercise.
- Avoid alcohol. Any brief lift you may experience from alcohol will give way to deeper depression. You don't need that and neither do the people you care about.
- Don't be afraid to ask for help and accept help when offered. Many of us pride ourselves on being able to take care of things ourselves. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
- Most importantly, keep in mind that situations that cause stress or depression do have a beginning and an end. If you look at your life, you will find many stressful times that you have gotten through. With help and patience, you will get through this, too.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration describes the signs of depression as sadness, hopelessness, isolation, loss of enjoyment in hobbies, changes in eating, disruptions in memory, disturbance in sleep patterns, becoming easily confused, loss of concentration, thinking about harming oneself or having suicidal thoughts. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression lasting more than two weeks, speak with a doctor or a behavioral health care professional.
Asking for help is not easy but it is the first step to feeling better. Don't assume that your family doctor whom you go to for physical pain shouldn't be troubled with your symptoms of emotional pain. It is not something that should be ignored. Health care practitioners of all specialties are acknowledging that mental and physical health are intertwined and must be treated in a coordinated manner. And be honest: Tell him or her about how your quality of life has changed. This will ensure that he or she recommends the most appropriate course of treatment.
The Ohio Department of Mental Health (ODMH) provides an anonymous toll-free bridge line to assist citizens in finding mental health or addiction services in their communities. Call 1-877-275-6364 for a list of resources in your area. The ODMH website also includes a page with information for older adults.
Healthy U, a program of the Ohio Department of Aging, assists individuals with managing chronic conditions, including depression and depressive symptoms. The workshop teaches strategies for finding resources, understanding symptoms, managing stress, communicating with health professionals and more. Call your area agency on aging at 1-866-243-5678 for information about this and other healthy lifestyles programs.
Finally, although it is often the suicidal actions of youth that we hear about, Caucasian men over the age of 85 are the segment of our population that is most at risk for suicide. Wanting to harm others or yourself is NEVER normal. If you are considering harming yourself, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
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