Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Depression in the lives of the Elderly

Since concentrating on topics relevant to the health care needs of the elderly I have often thought about how much of the elderly population might suffer from depression or other related mental health issues. I often wonder if these issues might not be recognized because the elderly population tends to be stoic or if simply it is a lack of knowledge about exactly what mental health is that prevents a portion of the elderly population from seeking help. In my 30-something age group we have been bombarded by the reality of how common depression is for example. In our generation we don't necessarily think twice about a family member or co-worker is taking some sort of medication for depression.

In many ways when thinking about the elderly people I have spoken to in the past it seems that they are stoic in their attitudes toward life and its tribulations. It appears in my opinion that when the elderly are having difficulties in dealing with life's hardships that many may feel like their complaints may be interpreted as whining or complaining and oftentimes do not seek any type of medical help. The elderly in my opinion have always had the belief that they have to take whatever life hands them and make the best of it regardless whether it may be financial help, social dysfunction or emotional difficulties. Our current generations of elderly have been taught from early on that they must deal with their problems with a strong resolve but they must also keep these issues private. I believe that this is the reason that many times depression in the elder population often goes undiagnosed.

For those elders that are diagnosed with depression I have noticed that is often a subject that they seem ashamed about admitting. My mother and my aunt who are both in their 60's have both disclosed to each other and me that they have both taken medication for depression but this information is seems should be contained in a folder stamped with the words "top secret". Although I have many times tried to explain to them that this information is nothing to be ashamed of they will not under any circumstance see this my way. I have asked them why this is on many occasions and their answers seem to be parallel to other elders I have questioned. Elders in my experience seem to think that admitting to any kind of mental health issue is the equivalence to admitting that they are crazy. The elders that I have spoken to about this believe that admitting that when they were my age having any kind of mental health issue was enough to be committed to an institution and being deemed crazy. I also noticed that in the cases of my mother and aunt who were both suffering the repercussions of a death in the family (my mother the death of my father and my aunt the death of my uncle and her only daughter) and had very legitimate reasons for being depressed and being on anti-depressive medication but yet they both only took their medication for a short time. Their reasons for this was that they needed to deal with their problems on their own and not use a crutch like medication so they could see everything through rose-colored glasses. I still often wonder if their motives for taking themselves off their medication were to escape the stigma associated with depression.

I'm not sure if the ideas that the elderly have concerning depression and all mental health issues for that matter can be reversed. I do believe that it is our obligation as the younger generation, who have become more informed about depression in particular, to help our elders recognize that seeking help for their emotional well being should not carry a negative stigma. I believe also that we should take the time to ask the elders in our lives more questions about the situations and emotions that they may be facing in order to be able to possibly intervene and possibly even convince them that seeking medical attention.

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