Is It Normal to Feel This Way? Aging & Mental Health

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mental health and aging

Hair grays, backs ache, eyesight “goes”, and knees snap, crackle, and pop when we sit or stand. Our babies are all grown up with babies of their own. Work is getting stale and retirement is on the horizon or we’re already retired. As we get older there are many things that change all around us.

Life is full of changes, and not all of them are positive as we age. It can leave us feeling hopeless, unwanted, lonely, and unsure of what to do next.

Delaware is home to just over 900,000 people, and over 306,000 of them are over the age of 50. That is nearly 35% of the state population being made up of the Baby Boomer population.

We are the generation that was part of the spark of peace and prosperity for the U.S., but that’s not all. A generation determined, “by your bootstraps” adults is best known for popularizing suburb lifestyles and Mickey Mouse ears!

So, while our generation of baby boomers spent a lot of time biking around the neighborhood until the street lights lit up or someone hollered down the street to beckon them home while growing up, we are also one of the hardest working generations in recent history. Studies show that over 70% of boomers expect to continue working past 65 years old and plan to bypass retirement in general.

It may come as a bit of a surprise, though, that 20% of adults, aged 60 and older, suffer from a mental or neurological disorder. It’s clear that mental health is a pressing topic for all aging adults, not just those of us here in Delaware, but there are still some lingering questions like: is mental illness in older adults especially common and how can we handle it?

Mental Illness is NOT a Normal Part of Getting Older

The connection between aging and mental health is not a recent finding by any means. Mental health for older adults was actually one of the Healthy People 2010 objectives.

Healthy People is a long term public health initiative created by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. It is a national program that works to address the most pressing issues here in the United States.

Specifically, we know that mental illness is prevalent within common issues that older adults experience. Over 14% of Delawareans aged 50 years and older also have a lifetime diagnosis of depression.

Have you ever felt this way?

  • Like you’re spending each day asking yourself what you need to do to feel happy just for today?
  • That no one gets the empty feeling left by starting retirement and not having a job to focus on?
  • Like you are alone and like no one is needing you anymore since retiring or becoming an empty nester?
  • That it’s just you against it all the stress of life without your family in the home with you?
  • Like nothing you by yourself do is really enjoyable or fun like it used to be?

These feelings are completely normal.

In fact, anywhere from 11-17% of adults, aged 50 years and older, believed they rarely or never got the emotional support they needed. This lack of emotional safety from friends and family members can lead to health issues, both mentally and physically.

As we get older, we do not lose our desire to feel connected to others and to discuss issues to people who are not only health providers, like our primary care physicians.

Sometimes, we want someone who truly “gets it”, who shares our common experiences of working, getting older, and potential retirement and more. Other times, we just need someone who is close to us to allow us to vent. It is important that we keep in mind therapy that focuses on depression or other mood disorders, which are not “just a part of getting older”.

Having symptoms of mental illness is not a routine part of growing up and aging. Older adults, in general, are more at risk for experiencing depression symptoms, which can be attributed to the other chronic illnesses and symptoms older adults live with.

The feeling of transition from work to retirement plays a role as we struggle to adapt to our new role in society. Oftentimes, its significant feelings of grief as they deal with the emotional weight of potentially losing loved ones.

Other times, feelings of uselessness and loneliness can come from the empty nester stages of our lives. Despite all the transitions and changes we face as we get older, more older adults report they have higher life satisfaction when compared with their younger counterparts.

Boomers are now on the feisty and maybe even the far side of fifty. If you’ve ever felt that things are passing you by, that times are changing faster than you can adapt, or that you’re feeling lost in the shuffle without any clue as to why you are feeling these distinct and tiring emotions. You are not alone.

It’s common that older adults are misdiagnosed when it comes to mental disorders. So, it is also important that we know that wondering whether the way you are feeling is normal.

When it comes to recognizing mental illness in older adults, it’s essential to know the signs and symptoms. Remembering that mental illnesses are more than feeling down or a bit blue, they have lasting symptoms that extend further than only one week at a time.

These symptoms are:

  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism/guilt
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, memory loss and making decisions
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating or appetite loss
  • Persistent aches or pains, or digestive problems that do not get better, even with treatment

As an aging adult, when it comes to senior mental illness it can be kind of scary to seek help through health care or senior care options.

Feelings of uncertainty are lurking around every corner. Feeling like you are the only one feeling this way, the only one who is struggling with the twists and turns of aging. Feeling alone, like you have no place without your kids and grandchildren living at home with you.

This is normal and the good news is that you don’t have to process the mental tax of aging alone. We recognize it can be hard to talk about and express how you feel as you find your new normal as an older adult, and we are here to help you navigate the turmoil of aging and finding care for a mental illness.

The good news is that adult mental illness is still very treatable. The right therapy treatment program will help improve your health and life skills. So, remember that it is important to recognize the signs of a serious problem and seek help.

As we saw above, a serious mental illness is not simply part of getting older, and having these thoughts compounded with the symptoms of a mental illness are signs that it is time to seek help. Mental illness is more than feeling sad, angry, or stressed. It impacts every part of your life and it lasts for an extended period of time, like weeks or months.

If you find your daily routines and everyday life being changed and impacted by your lingering thoughts, restlessness, fatigue, or any of the other symptoms listed above, then it is important that you reach out and get help that has experience and expertise.

Getting Help for Mental Illness as an Older Adult

At SUN Behavioral Health Delaware, we value your experiences, and we are dedicated to listening to you. Our psychiatrists and master’s level therapists are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There is no single cure for the complex emotional issues at the heart of mental health disorders, but we’ll help uncover and resolve the often longstanding psychological issues that can affect mood, attitudes and behaviors.

Our program uses evidence-based treatment, including everything from psychopharmacology to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Our trauma care approach uses the principles of safety, empowerment, trustworthiness, collaboration and choice.

The SUN team guides each patient through the process and provides the tools necessary for recovery. Patients are empowered to be the experts in their own healing. Call us today at: 302-604-5600 for care for your mental illness.