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Aging, Depression and Suicide

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

They are supposed to be the golden years, the years of retirement, playing with the grand kids and enjoying the fruits of a life time of labor. The reality of the situation for many of those who are growing older is a lot less than ideal. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention the over all suicide rate in the United States is 11 per 100,000 people. However, for those who are 65 and older the rate increases to 14 per 100,000 people. As today’s baby boomers move through their 50’s and into their 60’s it is predicted that the rate of suicide will continue to increase in the years ahead. In addition, it is reported that the elderly are less likely to reach out and ask for help and use more deadly means of committing suicide.

Why is this happening?

There is a lot of mythology surrounding people who grow older. One myth is that the process of aging brings about sickness, depression and thoughts about death. In point of fact, it is now increasingly evident that those elderly people who are depressed spent most of their lives with depression. Like many people, these individuals were never treated for depression when they were younger because they accepted their miserable feelings and did not know that it was possible to feel better. Now, in their 70’s and beyond they suffer the loss of loved ones, children move away and they feel socially isolated.

It is also a myth that aging brings with it ill health and thoughts of death. Many people remain healthy and vigorous throughout their lives. The difference between those who remain vigorous and those who do not has a lot to do with depression because it causes people to become very passive and helpless. Passivity, lack of energy and exercise are factors that can bring about poor health.

Depression is never a natural or normal way to feel and it needs to be treated at any stage of life where it presents itself. As a psychotherapist working geriatric psychiatry in a hospital in New York City we treated many elderly people who presented with severe depression and suicidal thoughts. The combination of anti depressant medications and psychotherapy allowed most of these people to feel better so that they could better enjoy their daily lives. These people ranged in age from 60 to 95 years of age. I should point out that these patients were free of Alzheimer’s disease which is a different type of problem than what is being discussed here.

The United States, even with its aging population, remains very youth oriented. There is an unfortunate tendency to dismiss or reject the elderly, something that does not happen in many other countries. Yet, we are going to age and join the ranks of the aged someday. The United States Constitution guarantees us the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." The Constitution does not limit these rights only to the young.

Depression is never a natural emotional state, nor is it normal or healthy to be preoccupied with thoughts of suicide.

Regardless of your age, if you are depressed seek help immediately.

Your comments are welcome and encouraged

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