Depression is something all of us have to deal with one way or the other. Seniors particularly are susceptible to it as we age. Depression comes in various shapes and sizes, from a very temporary feeling of unhappiness to a long term state of debilitating misery that may require medical intervention.
How can we know the difference? Basically the difference between a minor mood problem and deep depression requiring medical help involves the length and depth of the depression. If it lasts for weeks, is affecting normal life, is impacting others, and may be inducing thoughts of suicide, it is time to seek professional help. Very serious cases may involve brain chemistry and require psychiatric intervention and/or hospitalization. Short of this, however, we may all face periods where we feel blue, unhappy, and distressed without needing outside intervention to change our mental attitude.
Seniors may particularly be temporarily depressed by loss of a mate or close friend, an illness, job loss, financial losses, or social isolation in retirement. Obesity, boredom, abuse of alcohol, lack of sleep, loneliness, and inactivity can also trigger bouts of depression.
It is a myth that depression is a normal part of aging. It need not be, though some conditions like Alzheimer' disease, cancer, and certain medications for high blood pressure and arthritis can trigger bouts of depression.
The best way to deal with depression, or bouts of unhappiness, is to stay active, healthy, involved, and always have some fall back activities you enjoy to engage in if the "blues" attack. Listening to great music, reading or listening to good humor, helping others, exercising, going to a good movie, building or making something you are good at, praying and reading scripture, reading a good book, and socializing with friends, are just some of the tactics seniors ought to practice regularly to blow away unhappiness. Particularly for Christians it is critical to have a close group of friends who can not only cheer you up when you need it, but who can also monitor your feelings and moods and sense when you may need a lift. A small group Bible study is great for this, as are close family members or neighbors who can monitor and cheer us up when needed.
Another myth of depression is that it is synonymous with grief. Grief is the normal reaction to loss of a loved one, but it is expected and temporary. It can become depression only if it lasts a very long time (weeks and months) and impacts one’s ability to function. If that occurs, professional counseling or medical care may be needed. Less serious cases of depression may be treated with counseling and/or anti depression drugs. Counselors, social workers, clergy, psychologists, and psychiatrists are the some of the professionals who can help those facing various levels of depression.
Seniors, particularly Christian seniors, should be mindful of the presence of depression not only in themselves but also in their friends. We can form an army to help combat the negative impact of unhappiness and depression and work to make everyone's lives around us a little bit happier and better. After all, I think this is just what Jesus would do and want us to do.