By Marianne Delorey©
In honor of Robin Williams, whose recent passing shocked and touched us all, this article is a reminder that depression lies.
Depression is a serious but treatable illness affecting up to 350 million people worldwide according to the World Health Organization. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in their publication, The State of Mental Health and Aging in America notes that depression is the most common mental health problem among the elderly. It causes great suffering and can lead to impairments in daily functioning. Most important, the CDC report notes, “Although the rate of older adults with depressive symptoms tends to increase with age, depression is not a normal part of growing older.”
There is no doubt that the elderly suffer losses that would make anyone sad. Friends and family members pass away, health and abilities decline, and there are changes in independence and long held roles that make them wonder about their own worth.
Although there is a difference between normal sadness and depression, any discussion of the value of the elderly reminds me of Irina, an elderly lady I used to care for. She would often wonder aloud to me why she wasn’t yet allowed to die.
In my youth and naiveté, I would say to her, “You can’t die yet, Irina, I still have so much I need to learn from you.”
I was hoping that feeling loved and needed would help defeat the sadness she was experiencing.
Of course, I now understand that my simple words could not be enough. Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain that cannot be cured with a Pollyanna attitude. But as a rule, I do believe elders need to be reminded of their worth in our youth-centered culture.
And so, a few reminders to those who live with the lies created by depression:
•There can be happiness and suffering at any age. You may not always see the past for what it was and the future has yet to be defined. Your future might be brighter than you can imagine at this moment. In his iconic role in Good Will Hunting, Robin’s character did note, “You’ll have bad times, but it’ll always wake you up to the good stuff you weren’t paying attention to.”
•Sharing your vast experiences and insights can certainly still bring you great joy and purpose, regardless how much physical decline you have suffered.
•There are some who can find meaning in suffering. Review the works of Nietzsche and Frankl if you are a philosophical sort.
•Those of us in the caregiving profession have likely met you recently — we can see the beauty you have retained, even if you focus only on the beauty you once had. Ask us how we see you.
•Most importantly, help is available. Talk to your doctor or someone you trust if you are depressed. If their suggestions don’t work, keep talking. There is no need for you to suffer alone.
Robin Williams, in his iconic role in the Dead Poets Society, notes, “No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change this world.” And I think he might add that each one of us can, too.
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 800-273-8255.
Marianne Delorey, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Colony Retirement Homes She can be reached at 508-755-0444 or email@example.com and www.colonyretirementhomes.com. Archives of articles from previous issues can be read at www.fiftyplusadvocate.com