Depression Is Not a Part of the Aging Process

Mark Twain once said "Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, then it doesn't matter." Unfortunately, no matter how old we are, it's not always easy to address our problems and move on. The aging process requires a certain courage, endurance, and resilience. Physical challenges may present themselves, including health concerns that lead to the inability to do the activities we once loved doing. These can lead to mental health challenges like stress, anxiety, and depression. These factors place some older adults—especially older men—at risk for suicide.

Depression and the risk of suicide with age

The ASFP reports in their latest research that suicide rates have been increasing for those ages 45 and beyond, with the highest number of suicides among the 85+ age group. Although the rate of older adults with depressive symptoms tends to increase with age, depression is not a normal part of growing older. Rather, in 80% of cases it is a treatable condition.

Depression, bipolar disorder, and substance use are strongly linked to suicidal thinking and behavior. As we grow older, we take on more responsibilities and burdens which can increase our stress and anxiety levels while encouraging these behaviors. We learn to live with new everyday challenges, like chronic illnesses, increased responsibilities at work, financial concerns, or the loss of loved ones with whom we spent our entire lives. Not surprisingly, these life changing events can lead to an increased risk of depression, which often goes undiagnosed in older adults as some of the warning signs could come across as other conditions like insomnia or an inability to continue with activities once enjoyed due to physical health limits. Physicians therefore may not bring up the topic of depression and suicide, and the patient may not understand the symptoms of depression to know to ask.

Helping those suffering from depression

There are a number of ways you can approach the topic and help someone who may be affected by a mental health condition. The most important thing you can do is to be there for them, listen, and encourage them to get the help they need. The topic of depression and suicide may be unpleasant and difficult to discuss, but research shows that talking openly about it doesn't increase the risk. It can actually reduce the chances of a suicide attempt.

There are also other options ranging from medications to breathing exercises aimed at reducing stress and depressed mood. Specific treatments used by mental health professionals—such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy—have been proven to help people manage their suicidal thoughts and behavior, and have become an increasingly popular tool for improving mental health among clinical patients and individuals alike. With the growing concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, our Mental Health Index reports mental conditions like depression, anxiety, and PTSD have been on the rise over the past year. Self-care tools like Total Brain have helped users reduce cravings in the moment and train to build new habits that encourage positivity and resilience over negativity.

Understanding depression and knowing when to seek help

Depression is related to brain functions that affect decision-making and behavioral control, making it difficult for people to find positive solutions. As we age, some of these functions may be diminished. By introducing technology and mental health platforms like Total Brain, professionals have a way to monitor the mental state of their patients to reduce the chances of relapse and improve overall treatment outcomes. For individuals, the scientifically-validated screening assessment can help determine whether they may be at risk for a mental health condition, and our growing selection of brain optimization tools, like Thought Tamer, can reframe negative thoughts to improve positivity and resilience while reducing stress levels that may lead to depression.

Depression, of course, isn't restricted by age. We all experience different challenges at various stages in our lives. There are remedies available to everyone like meditation, breathing exercises, healthy diet, and social support. But when these aren't enough, remember that further help is always available.

September is National Suicide Awareness Month, and Total Brain is committed to raising awareness of this rising concern across the world. We all have mental health challenges at some point in our lives. It's time we take the next step, ask more deeply about what someone is experiencing, and if we need it, find help together. If you are concerned for a friend, relative, or colleague, don't neglect taking action and if you are feeling overwhelmed yourself, know that support is always available and you can talk to someone about what you're experiencing.

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