Are you living with depression?
by Sharon Simpson
According to Health Canada, seniors are healthier, more affluent and living longer than ever before in our society. They constantly challenge the stereotypes of the elderly with their adventures, engagement and vibrant lives. And yet, there are times when the elderly can become very discouraged, hopeless and overwhelmed by the transitions and changes they are experiencing.
In 2002, the Canadian Coalition for Seniors’ Mental Health was formed to promote the mental health of seniors by connecting people, ideas and resources (www.ccsmh.ca). In their resources, they outline that depression is the most common mental health issue for seniors. They have a quiz online that you can do to help identify if you are living with depression.
Do you live with depression?
Depression has many symptoms – from feeling sad, low energy, feeling worthless, changes in appetite to thoughts of suicide and death. It may also include no longer finding pleasure in things you used to enjoy doing. You may be struggling with sleeping – either too much or not enough.
When you recognize that you have depression, you can begin the journey back to feeling like yourself.
A commendable effort, but at what cost?
Many who live with depression can rally themselves to behave “like themselves” – at church, out with family, when a visitor pops by. It takes all your energy to pull yourself together for these visits and afterwards, you crash in exhaustion. Often, your “safest” person is the one who encounters the exhausted and depressed person, perhaps through anger, snappiness or sullen silence.
A doctor once told a depressed patient that this is the most commendable effort. The patient was doing everything he could with every ounce of energy to keep the most important pieces of his life going – his relationships, his church family and his meaningful activities.
Eventually, no person, no matter how amazingly strong, can keep going this way. It just takes too much out of them. Those closest to them feel that they are behaving in a preferential way – giving their good side to strangers and their angry, unsocial side to their closest loved ones.
That same doctor said it’s like a person who is drowning. They are paddling and paddling just to keep their head above water, and they are getting very tired. Everyone can see that they are trying their best but they just can’t do it anymore.
That is the time to throw the drowning person a lifesaver. This flotation device gives them something to hang onto –and allows them to stop paddling. They can finally relax and regain their energy, their perspective and find their way to safety.
Lifesavers for someone living with depression
The first lifesaver is a conversation with someone who understands depression and understands you. This may be your doctor or your loved ones. It may be that you know someone at church who is especially kind and understanding. You can start the conversation with these words, “I think that I am depressed.”
The second lifesaver is to take anti-depressants if your doctor prescribes them. This is not a crutch or a weakness. It is like taking insulin for diabetes. Depression is an illness and there is medication available. Anti-depressants take several weeks to have an effect and they do have some side-affects. Work with your doctor, without shame, as you accept this lifesaver.
The third lifesaver is to fire the committee. This was my dad’s way of referring to the voices in his head that told him his life was not worth living. My father lived with progressive Multiple Sclerosis for 14 years, 11 in a wheelchair. The disease is such that each day is your last best day. The decline is inevitable and he suffered from depression. Each day, his committee announced to him, “This is your best day. Every day will be worse.”
The Bible teaches us in Romans 12:2 that it is in renewing our mind that we are transformed. The Message says, “fix your attention on God and He will bring out the best in you, developing well-formed maturity in you.” It’s time to fire the committee and invite God’s committee into your head –His Spirit will bring hope and encouragement to your mind.
For many, firing the committee takes much more than resolve. The committee has been speaking in your head for 80+ years. We need help to fire them – a trained counsellor can help you walk through this journey of identifying the messages you tell yourself and finding renewed ways of moving forward. Counsellors are kind, understanding and trained in providing support for those living with depression.
Are you paddling to keep your head above water? Perhaps, this month, you will take a lifesaver that will help you on the journey back to being yourself.
Sharon Simpson is the director of Communications and Stakeholder Engagement at Menno Home in Abbotsford, BC.