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Boomers and Depression

Boomers and Depression
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BY KITT WALSH

I have been treated for chronic depression my entire adult life and know I must be ever vigilant not to fall over the precipice I found myself teetering upon on more than one occasion.

The suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade bring home the fact that suicides in the US are rising steadily, especially among people 45 to 64.

We boomers are killing ourselves.

White men, middle aged or older, who find themselves at the end of a successful career, with some medical issues caused by aging, who may be dealing with symptoms of depression, are committing suicide at an alarming rate—increased by nearly 40 percent, between 1999 and 2010.

Men make up the larger percentage of suicide attempts. Once they are no longer “in their prime” physically, sexually or at work, they find it harder to cope. Add, too, that men are not as prone to turn to their friends or seek professional help. Women are better at all those skills, according to experts.

But women aren’t immune to the feelings of loss of esteem. For some of us, our spirits sag along with our breasts. Our children are grown and don’t need us. Menopause, the hormonal roller coaster, reminds us that our fertile, juicy years are behind us and we are facing a future filled with geriatric health problems. Throw into that pot that our husbands may be uncommunicative, uninterested in us sexually or may be facing health problems of their own, transforming us from playmate to nursemaid.

So are there warning signs of serious depression we should look out for in ourselves and others?

In men, the symptoms are sleeping too much or too little, constipation or diarrhea, back or stomachache, irritability or anger, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, indecision, substance abuse and sexual dysfunction.

Women add a few others to the mix. Here are the signs to watch out for on our side of the aisle: Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood; loss of interest in activities, including sex; restlessness, or excessive crying; feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness, pessimism; appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and weight gain; decreased energy; headaches, and chronic pain.

Here’s what the experts say to do:

Treat any underlying medical condition: Have your doctor check for illnesses that can exacerbate or lead to changes in brain chemistry (cancer, small strokes, Parkinson’s, diabetes, hormonal changes in menopause.) Also ask about drug interactions that might affect your mood.

Don’t self medicate: 17% of people over 60 abuse drugs and alcohol. That martini is a depressive and sedatives to alter your mood or help you sleep can be lethal on their own, as well as increase the risk of suicide.

Work on physical balance: Take up yoga or Tai Chi. One third of us will fall at last once a year by the time we are 65 and coming back from broken bones is harder the older we get. Disability means depression. Build your balance now. Studies show that those who exercise live longer and happier lives.

Get some sleep: If you are having trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep (like 80% of people who are depressed), get treatment right away. Good sleep can be taught. Learn to go to sleep every night and wake up in the morning at the same time, cut out caffeine and nap if you can.

Realize the difference between grief and depression: By the time we are 65, half of American women will be widows. Most of us will be saddened by that (crying, feeling lonely or angry) but those feeling will pass. For 15% of us, though, such loss will lead to chronic depression. If you feel as though you are just slogging through life for an extended period, seek help.

Make new friends. Those of us with a strong social network suffer less loneliness and less depression.

Set a purpose: You needn’t join the Peace Corps, but you must find some reason to get up in the morning. Become a docent. Get a part-time job at a day care. Chain yourself to the fence at a nuclear power plant, but have a passion and follow it.

Take the pain: You are going to hurt more and in more places as you get older. Suck it up. Learn breathing and meditation. Get a massage. Enjoy hot baths (be careful of slipping) and embrace the loss of loved ones as part of life (nobody gets out of this alive). Don’t be morose. Practice being content.

And if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, realize your thinking is distorted and seek help before you do anything to hurt yourself. Here are some places to start:

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: www.afsp.org

National Alliance on Mental Illness: www.nami.org

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Kitt Walsh owns a web content company, Behind Blogs ( www.behindblogs.com) is a regular contributor to CNN Money, a public speaker on Social Media, a book editor and ghostwriter, and freelances as a feature writer, editor and marketing consultant for magazines, newspapers and private clients around the world.

 

 

 

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