Friday, December 05, 2008

Depression is not a "normal" part of Aging

If depression were a normal part of aging, as even some physicians and mental health professionals think, then what happened with Chad?
In 1995, he retired from his many years of practising medicine. In 1996, he went in to see a doctor about a kinked muscle from golfing and was scheduled for quintuple bypass the next day. Later that year, his namesake, favorite grandchild, honor student in college in theoretical physics and handsome enough to be a model, was committed to a drug rehabilitation residency facility for 12 months. In 1997, the young man was released, but continued drug abuse, piling up arrests, car accidents and incredible stress and fear in the whole family. In 1998, Chad's wife of nearly 50 years died after 3 months in the hospital. Chad's son, the father of the boy in rehab, was then diagnosed with congestive heart failure. In early 1999, the promising your grandson died of an accidental overdose, which devastated the boy's father (his son), who was put on anti-depressants, his health declined, and he began drinking heavily.

And Chad? One of those people bouyant in the face of adversity. In fact his family referred to him as "having the happy gene." He was a smiling and congenial, though grieving, host at the funeral of his wife, and memorial service for his namesake. He continued his social activities and golf, hanging out with his buddies at the club and at the broker's. In 2000, he moved with his son and family to a new town, where he lived in a separate house on the property, began making new friends there and dating a woman he met in town.

At this time, he was 80 years old.

Phillip is another example. He retired from years on the railroad, where he was popular with all. Then his wife had a stroke and was an invalid for a year before she died. The next month Kartrina hit, and Phillip lost everything except a box of photos. Did he curl up in mororse depression? Nope. He moved to Atlanta to be with his son, bought himself a new flatscreen TV (along with basically every other item one needs for a household), taught himself how to cook, has a lady-friend who watches opera with him, and is the one at the condos who introduces everybody to everybody else. He studies chess, plays scrabble, has the grandkids for the weekend, and goes to the casinos. He is now 83 years old.
What didn't these men become morose, depressed, and physcially ill with this stunning succession of real tragedies and losses in their lives? In fact, if either of them had shown up in the ER with signs of a stroke of heart attack, or had withdrawn into severe depression, who would not have said, "Well what can you expect?" In the space of 5 years, Chad basically lost the identity his profession had given him (many men die when they retire), his wife, his son (who became emotionally unavailable and began to drink), and his favorite grandson, and then moved to a new town, which would befuddle and depress many an octogenarian. Phillip lost everything - his wife, his house, every possession, and moved to a new town and started all over again at the age of 80. Smiling all the while.
The NIMH quoted on mental-health-today continually endeavors to educate that people like Chad and Phillip can be the norm, maybe ARE the norm ... that "old people" are not destined to become depressed.

I knew Chad well (now deceased, God rest his soul in peace), and Phillip for years. Yes, they were born with those temperaments we talk about in emotional intelligence. Just bouyant and resilient people. [But note that barring severe chemical problems, resilience can be learned - I teach it in my Emotional Intelligence course and people who have taken it say their resilience has been increased.] See my Emotional Intelligence (EQ) Course and ebook on Resilience.
Like most people with high EQ (see articles on leaders with high EQ who are maneuvering their corporations well through this economic crisis, making difficult and risky decisions), Chad was able to make high risks with good judgment that paid off. Chad drew out all his life insurance money and IRA money and invested it all -- everything he had -- in a piece of land affronting a ranch where oil was being pumped, making sure the mineral rights were included, and sure enough, the hit oil, allowing him an early and comfortable retirement.
With resilience, he was able to "let go" of his 40 years of being a physician, with grace, and move on. To what? He never lacked for ideas.
Chad continued to be sociable until the day he died, always the life of the party, always ready to golf, travel, meet new people, eat out - whatever was going on. Phillip is basically the unofficial "host" of his condo complex, which he refers to as "a 5-star resort" with his usual positie attitude.
Emotional intelligence studies tell us that ISOLATION is worse on health than high blood pressure, smoking and obesity combined.
So to reiterate: Although "older Americans ... are disproportionately likely to die by suicide...among the highest rates (when categorized by gender and race) were white men age 85 and older...more than 5 times the national US rate of 10.6 per 100,000.... And among the nearly 35 million Americans age 65 and older, an estimated 2,000,000 have a depressive illness and another 5,000,000 may have 'subsyndromal depress,' according to NIMH ... in any of these forms ... depressive syptoms are not a normal part of aging.

It is true that many older Americans face serious illnesses along with losses and various social and economic difficulties, but NIMH stresses that health care professionals, the general public, and sufferers themselves, should not conclude that depression is a "normal consequence" of these problems.

Says NIMH: "Depression can and should be treated when it co-occurs with other illnesses, for untreated depression can delay recovery from or worsen the outcome of these other illnesses. The relationship between depression and other illness processes in older adults is a focus of ongoing research.

Two points are important here.
  1. Depression is not a normal part of aging, or the things we associate with aging (loss, illness, decline)

  2. Learing more about Emotional Intelligence can help you at all stages of life. It can be particularly important as you age and stressors build - whether it's having teenagers at home while having to care for an aged parent, becoming debilitated with age, losing loved ones, adjusting lifestyle, moving or the other things can come along with age, the more you understand how emotions work and the choices that you have, the better off you will be. Studying Emotional Intelligence and practising it is not a substitute for medication, when medication is needed (as in bipolar, for instance), but is a win-win endeavor. It helps anyone - from children to centenarians. (See my ebook Teaching Your Child Emotional Intelligence.)
  3. If you, or someone you know is depressed, please seek professional mental health care. It is not a normal condition, one that's "part of growing old."

Email me at for more information on my highly-acclaimed Emotional Intelligence course. And yes, I have coached many seniors. The course is on the Internet with email and phone support. Coaching is a marvelous adjunct to learning.

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1 comment:

Queen of Wands said...

This was a really great article! I have alwways associated emotional buoyancy and vigor with a spiritual belief of some sort that sustains the spirit through life's inevitable ups and downs.