Is Dad OK? What is clinical depression?
Clinical depression is the most common of mental conditions, which can be treated, but among elderly aging parents, it is one of the most overlooked. Sometimes, it’s because physicians don’t recognize the signs and symptoms. Sometimes it’s because of an overall attitude of society that perhaps feeling low is just part of getting old. The danger in overlooking clinical depression is twofold.
First, quality of life that could be improved isn’t, and unnecessary suffering goes on.
Second, the alarming fact of elder suicide looms. Clinical depression is both an emotional occurrence and a physical event. The physical component is triggered by brain chemistry, and can be helped.
Feeling low doesn’t have to be a permanent part of getting older. There are many elderly aging parents who are able to take aging in stride, and accept the many limitations that accompany getting along in years. Aging is frequently marked by losses. Loss of spouses, siblings and friends, as well as losses of physical strength and abilities can lead to sadness. The sadness associated with loss can often be lessened with time. But what if Dad, who lost his wife last year, just doesn’t seem to care about anything anymore? If more than a year has passed since loss of a spouse, and an aging parent still seems unable to move forward, it may to be time to see the doctor for a checkup.
If you are able to accompany Dad to the doctor, mention the problem specifically. Loss of enjoyment of things one normally likes is one of the symptoms of clinical depression. Other symptoms include feeling sad for extended periods, loss of appetite, sleeping too much or not enough, eating too much, difficulty making decisions, steady weight loss, or unusual weight gain, irritability, outbursts of temper which are not normal, and withdrawal from friends and family.
Clinical depression is one of the most treatable of all mental health problems. Many excellent medications can make a great difference in one’s mood and ability to participate in life. Counseling or talk therapy can also be a great help in managing feelings of loss and grief and in helping an aging parent to get through the grieving process.
If Dad is just not getting back to the way he was, and has an alarmingly long, ongoing period of sad mood and other symptoms, encourage him to see his doctor. Plan to go with him to be sure he doesn’t gloss over the problem. Many elders are unaccustomed to talking about their feelings. They may lack the basic vocabulary to describe them. The adult child can offer gentle assistance with this difficult area. If unchecked, clinical depression can become a downward spiral with no end. It can become worse and more miserable for the depressed person as time passes.
Addressing clinical depression in an aging parent can lead to relief, and improved quality of life. It is a loving act to suggest that the problem can be improved. It may take the initiative of a son or daughter to get help for Dad, but the effect of help if well worth your effort.
THE TEN RED FLAGS
Do you or a loved one experience any of these symptoms on a persistent basis?
1. Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness and emptiness
2. Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
3. Loss of interest in activities that used to be fun and rewarding
4. Lack of energy
5. Sleeping too much or too little,
6. Eating too much or too little
7. Poor concentration and focus
8. Irritability and restlessness
9. Persistent physical aches and pains, such as headaches, stomach problems
10. Wish to die or thoughts of suicide or self-harm
If you or a loved one experiences any of these symptoms, you should consider consulting with your physician and a mental health provider.
Dr. Mikol S. Davis, Psychologist
Have you ever found yourself feeling the blues and no matter what you try you just can’t feel right? So what can you do to cure the blues?
Well, how about the TV commercials that promise to fix those blues with a magic new pill? If you are a man then you are very unlikely to seek any form of professional help. Instead you will just try to tough it out, hoping that tomorrow will bring a better day. Yet for many of us, that better day does not seem to ever arrive. So then what can you do?
Well most of us will eventually go see our family doctor and believe that maybe there is something physically wrong that the good doctor has a pill to fix us right up. The doctor gives us checkup, asssures that there’s nothing physically wrong and suggests that you might want to see a psychologist. The doctor might refer you to someone, or might not.
So, you finally get around to the decision that the blues aren’t getting any better, you’re sick of feeling bad, and you make that leap to start looking for help. How does anyone know where to start? Most people who have insurance call their carrier to see if mental health help is covered and get a list of providers. At that point, they don’t know what to, what to ask, or how to pick someone. When you’ve got the blues, it’s already hard to make decisions, let alone this one!
As a provider of 37 years worth of mental health help for people of all ages, I suggest the following, should you find yourself in need of some help.
1. Figure out if you’d prefer a man or a woman. For some, it doesn’t matter. For others, they’re definitely more comfortable with one or the other and starting to look for a therapist of your preferred gender (or LGBT) is a place to start.
2. Find someone who is close in age to you, or older. Therapists who are of similar age to yourself may share some of your life experiences and understand you better. A very young therapist if you’re middle aged, for example, might not relate well to your descriptions of what you are going through in the context of where you are in your life.
3. Look for a goal oriented therapist. Too many therapists are happy to take your money, and be listeners, but the purpose of therapy can get lost. You’ve got to define why you’re there and what you hope to get out of the experience. Defining this for yourself is a first step. Therapy is not an exercise in just talking. The idea is to help you understand yourself better and make changes. The therapist who is right for you will be one who has the skill to lead and guide, rather than simply passively listen. You can buy a mannequin if you want a passive thing to appear to listen and nothing more. Get your money’s worth from your therapist! If there are no hard questions and no suggestions, you’re in the wrong place.
If you are in distress, spend some time working on finding the right person to help you get to a better feeling place and change the way you manage those emotions. Therapy can be a lifesaver. Yes, it’s work even finding a therapist, but it’s well worth the effort.
Here we are in the holiday season. It is truly a time for us to reflect on the many blessings in our lives. However those thoughts of gratitude are ever so quickly replaced by thoughts of all that is not right in our lives. What is it about our American culture that we often don’t take the time to truly appreciate all that we have, and instead believe that if only certain things in our life could change we would be really happy?
So we teach our children to always believe that happiness can only achieved if they fulfill certain cultural conditions. Happiness is therefore always elusive and a possible future condition, but how about now?
Parents need to be clear themselves about how to be happy. Happiness, as defined in our culture, comes from possessions, material trappings of success, or other externals. The truth about happiness is that it is achievable but that it comes from within.
Parents need to demonstrate for their kids an example of how to be happy by enjoying what they have, and being in the present
Remember to appreciate who your children are today, rather than the hope of what they will become tomorrow.