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Living Healthy After Sixty: Depression and Oklahoma Seniors

07/25/2016

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For those in the Third Age phase of life – Baby Boomers and beyond – medical diagnoses often focus on physical ailments rather than mental health. Older adults experience significant life changes different from other stages of life, so depression and other mental illnesses in seniors are not uncommon, though they are commonly under-recognized and under-treated.

Depression and Oklahoma seniors

The National Alliance on Mental Illness says almost 147,000 adults in Oklahoma live with serious mental illness. With poor overall health rankings and high rates of disease and addiction, it’s no surprise Oklahoma seniors report more frequent and more severe episodes of mental distress than elsewhere in the United States, higher than both regional and national rates. One in five older Oklahomans may have a mental health disorder, but less than 40 percent of those affected seek treatment. Those who do usually go to their primary care physician rather than a mental health specialist, according to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.

Risk factors and warning signs

Addressing the mental health issues among Oklahoma seniors starts with knowing and recognizing the risk factors and warning signs.

Following are some risk factors for depression in older adults.

  • Experience of significant trauma earlier in life
  • Chronic illness or chronic pain
  • A recent significant health challenge like an injury or surgery
  • Major life changes such as retirement, job loss or a shift in living situation
  • Worrisome or anxiety-causing ailments like chest pains, shortness of breath, insomnia, or macular degeneration
  • Family history of mental health issues
  • Misuse of alcohol or medicine, whether it’s prescription or over-the-counter
  • Taking medication with strong side effects

Recognizing the warning signs of depression can help family members and caregivers address mental health issues with loved ones. Here are some warning signs.

  • Trouble making decisions
  • Unwillingness to participate in social activities
  • Significant weight gain or loss
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Prolonged anger or sadness
  • General fatigue or muscle tension
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness

The Friendship Line is a free crisis and support service available 24/7 for seniors. Older adults who need to talk for any reason can call 800-971-0016, any time, day or night.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-TALK (8255), is always available.

Ways for seniors to cope

Depression does not have to set the tone for overall quality of life. Seniors have options to help manage depression so they can live full, healthy and enjoyable lives throughout their golden years. Treatment options include various therapies like cognitive, behavioral, problem-solving or interpersonal therapy. Medications can help control symptoms and mood.

It’s important for older adults to continue engaging in activities they enjoy. Spending time with family, participating in social activities, staying physically active and making time to relax are simple but essential ways to stay mentally healthy. Meditation and spiritual activities can also promote mental wellness.

Take a free online screening

The stigma of depression and mental health issues in Americans, especially older adults, prevents many from seeking help. Just like any other bodily organ, the brain is not immune to problems; the symptoms simply manifest in different ways. Seeking treatment for physical ailments is normal and common. Seeking treatment for mental health issues should be, too.

If you or a loved one has risk factors or shows warning signs for depression, INTEGRIS offers a free, confidential and anonymous online screening to help you determine if a professional consultation may be helpful. And, check out the Third Age Life Center to find programs, classes and activities geared toward seniors. The center offers dietitian consultations, strength training, yoga, Tai Chi, bowling, book discussions, quilting and much more.

Generations, a service offered by INTEGRIS Mental Health, offers multiple inpatient treatment options for Oklahoma seniors suffering from more severe depression and mental health issues.

When it comes to depression and mental health struggles, you're not alone. Reach out for help today.

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