Aging, Depression, Suicide & EQ

There are so many myths about aging. For instance, do you think, as many do, that “all old people are alike,” and that nobody changes after about the age of 50?

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Freud’s famous statement that people couldn’t change after the age of 50 simply isn’t true. At the time he formed his theories, most people didn’t live past 50, and that of course shaped his views. He may not have seen a lot of people over 50.

In fact this limited exposure to people in older age groups continues to confound our understanding. A lot of the psychological assessments available weren’t normed on enough people over the age of 60 to make them reliable for individuals in that age group. It’s all about developmental stages and you wouldn’t expect “normal” to mean the same thing for a 75 year old as a 42 year old and more than for a 6 year old and a 12 year old.

Seniors are not alike as individuals or as a group. Surveys show that the most “contented” people are people aged 60-69, but at the same time, the highest suicide rates of any age group occur among individuals 65 and older. 81% of senior suicides are male and Anglo males are particularly vulnerable. White males over 65 have the highest suicide rate, second only to white adolescent males. Suicide rates are higher for those who are divorced or widowed, and cause is attributed first to physical ailments, and then to depression.

The percentage of seniors in the population has risen steadily from 3% in 1900, to about 12% now. It’s projected to increase to 21% in the next 30 years. Since most emotional problems are often presented first to a primary care physician, as physical problems (headache, backache), medical schools are hastening to add exposure to geriatric medicine and psychology in the training of doctors. Psychology licensing boards are also beginning to require it.

It’s important to understand that depression manifests itself in different ways. We usually think of the “lethargic” depressed person, the one who moves and thinks slowly, can’t sustain eye contact, talks negatively, is disinterested or unable to enjoy their usual pleasures, and wants to sleep all the time. But depressed people can also be agitated, angry, restless, irritable, eyes darting around, frantically trying to enjoy things (but not able to), and not able to sleep much.

In either case, women may talk about the feelings, but men tend to complain about physical ailments when they see a doctor.

It’s important to understand that depression isn’t a “normal” part of aging, and that its treatable. If you think you’re depressed, or that your loved one is, it’s good to start with a physical checkup. You should be make a list of all medications being taken, and also consider the normal routine. Many seniors, especially those who live alone, neglect nutrition and exercise.

As I say in my ebook, “EQ and Depression,” you aren’t supposed to be depressed as you age. You’re supposed to feel good. Many seniors have a high EQ, are resilient, and are experienced copers. EQ intends to increase with age, but not if you don’t work on it. Skills such as flexiblity, creativity and resilience can be learned, and it pays to start developing them in early adulthood, as they take time to learn. Barring physical problems, you can learn to manage your emotions and the thoughts that accompany, and cause, them.

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