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Seeing the Light

Dispelling myths about senior depression BY LARA PIU According to a recent study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), approximately one in five Americans suffers from mental illness. That equates to roughly 42.5 million people, and Arizona seniors are among the top populations suffering – in United Health Group’s 2018 America’s Health Rankings Senior Report, Arizona ranked 31 in overall health, plummeting eight spots since last year. During that time, a 15 percent increase in senior suicides was also recorded. Mental Health America ranks our sunny state even lower, naming it 49th in the country for overall mental health, with high numbers of mental illness cases and low access to care. Medicare regulations might explain some of these statistics, explains Dr. Kristen Ray, DBH, LPC, Behavioral Health Director, Counseling & Social Health at Bayless Integrated Healthcare. According to the doctor, psychologists and clinical social workers are the sole

professionals approved to provide mental health services to people with Medicare. The exclusion of counselors, marriage and family counselors, and supervised associate level clinicians limits their options. In addition, mental illness is often misunderstood, especially when it comes to depression in seniors, says Keith Crnic, Ph.D. He’s the Department of Psychology Foundation Professor at Arizona State University and a Resident and Board Chair for the Institute for Mental Health Research (IMHR), a Valley-based nonprofit that brings mental health education and awareness to the public. “In a lot of ways, mental health is misunderstood. It still represents a stigma for individuals with mental health problems,” Dr. Crnic explains. “This is a health problem like any other health problem.”

• They’re not trying. • They’re lazy. • This is a choice. • They are really different from us.

Overall thinking about depression in seniors is widely based on myths, Crnic warns. Some of those myths include:

One of the most common myths, according to Crnic, is that people with depression are inherently different. “It doesn’t make them not normal, it just

Depression myths

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makes them struggling in certain areas,” Crnic says. “There’s almost no one who’s never felt depressed at some point… we’ve all been there. The difference between those of us that have these normative periods of feeling depressed and those of us who have clinical depression is the extent and frequency to which it lasts. But the experience is qualitatively similar.” And perhaps among the most unfortunate myths is that senior depression is normal. “People need to understand that depression is not a normal part of aging. Even though they are facing life circumstances that are different than the earlier stages of life – like loss of spouses and friends and freedoms – it shouldn’t be normal to associate depression with aging,” Crnic says. “It’s still an issue that needs to be addressed and treated. We don’t want people to think that it’s okay… that sadness and depression is tolerable. It shouldn’t be tolerable. They are no less important and no less worthy of being addressed.”

Depression warning signs

The signs of depression can be, but are not necessarily always, different in older people, Crnic notes. Dr. Ray offers 10 main signs to look for, commenting, “If you are, or know someone, who is experiencing the following symptoms daily or every other day for more than two to four weeks, professional help is recommended.”

• Feeling sad, empty, or hopeless • Diminished interest or pleasure in all, or most, activities • Significant changes in weight (gain or loss) • Difficulty falling and/or staying asleep • Feelings of restlessness or being really slowed down • Fatigue or loss of energy • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive/inappropriate guilt • Decreased ability to concentrate • Reoccurring thoughts of death • Self-medicating through drugs and alcohol or taking more medication than prescribed

Depression...continued on page 16

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Lovin' Life After 50: Phoenix - June 2018  

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