Seniors take 'pull up your bootstraps' view of depression

Older adults are increasingly choosing to manage their mental health by themselves.

Dave Yasvinski 3 minute read November 16, 2020
Seniors and depression

Many seniors feel that gumption will help them with mood disorders. Getty

Old habits die hard when it comes to depression, a concerning trend that has left untold numbers of elderly adults suffering in silence instead of seeking help.

Almost two-thirds of Americans 65 years of age or older said they would not be talking to a doctor about their suspected mood disorder, with a full one-third of respondents convinced they can overcome their problem with some good old-fashioned gumption, according to a GeneSight Mental Health Monitor poll of more than 1,000 people.

“The ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ mindset of some seniors and reluctance to talk about mental health are hindering them from getting the help they need — especially now when the pandemic is having an enormous impact on the mental health of older Americans,” said Mark Pollack, chief medical officer of Myriad Neuroscience. Pollack’s company produces the GeneSite test, a tool that helps individuals find the best medication for their depression based on their specific genetics.

“People will seek treatment for conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes. Depression is no different. It is an illness that can and should be treated,” he said.

The ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ mindset of some seniors and reluctance to talk about mental health are hindering them from getting the help they need

When it comes to mental health, there is still an unfortunate stigma that prevents people from talking about or even admitting they have a problem.

The trend appears magnified in older patients with 61 per cent of respondents saying they won’t seek help because they don’t believe their issues are that bad. Of this group, 40 per cent said they believe they can manage depression on their own.

“In my experience, there is a commonly held view that depression is a normal part of ageing; it is not,” said Parikshit Deshmukh, the CEO of Balanced Wellbeing LLC, a company that provides psychiatric services to nursing homes in Florida. “I’ve found older adults have a very difficult time admitting that they have depression. When they do acknowledge it, they are still reluctant to start treatment for a wide variety of reasons.”

While it may not be easy to reach out for help, Carmala Walgren, a 74-year-old New York resident, said life is better on the other side. “There is such a stigma about depression among people my age,” she said. “I am proof that you do not have to accept living with depression. Although it may not be easy to find a treatment that helps you with your symptoms without causing side effects, it is certainly worth it.”

Approximately 11 per cent of men and 16 per cent of women in Canada will experience major depression at some point in their lives. Typically lasting two months or longer, major depression can result in feelings of hopelessness, detachment, lethargy, indecision and thoughts of suicide. The good news is depression can be treated and the first step is realizing that the troubling symptoms one experiences are not a personal failing but an illness for which help is available.

If you suspect you or someone you love is suffering from depression or another mood disorder, it’s important to remember you are not alone and there is nothing wrong with reaching out for help. There are a wealth of resources available online to help you better understand the symptoms of depression and how you can start on the road to recovery.


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