Mental Health and Aging: Tips for Helping Through the Hard Times

Aging can be difficult for an entire family- adult children, grandchildren, spouse, and especially on the aging person. He or she may not be the person that they used to be and that can be upsetting to those around them.

It can be even more upsetting to them, because they may not like those changes. These changes aren’t something they asked for. It’s due to changes in the brain caused by aging, medications, medical conditions and possibly other factors.

Bench

Learning from Scratch

The very first job I had out of college was at a large mental health facility. I was assigned to the geriatric unit. This unit also served pregnant and medically fragile patients, even though it was rare to see patients of either category.

I’ll admit that I wasn’t thrilled with this assignment because I had no experience in this area, plus I wanted to work with a younger population. I wanted to transfer but had recently discovered that I was pregnant with Lily. The best option was for me to stay where I was.

This was a small unit- less than 25 beds. Many of the patients had conditions like dementia, Alzheimer’s, and even a few with Parkinson’s, but combined with mental illness. When those combine, things get a bit challenging.

I’ll never forget the 93-year-old woman that came in after physically attacking the director of her nursing home. She was so tiny that the entire staff wondered how she was able to do so.

I did learn quite a bit while I was there- the unit shut down due to budget cuts while I was on light duty. (Lily and I did not get along very well towards the end of my pregnancy. When I came back to work after her birth, I went to a different unit.)

  • Empathy goes a long way.
  • Take the time to really listen to what the person wants/needs.
  • Remember that this isn’t a personal attack against you.
  • The person you love is still inside, you might have to search a little deeper.
  • Take breaks from caregiving when you can.

The Facts and Why Mental Health Issues Aren’t Easy to Spot

The triggers and symptoms of mental illness in the elderly aren’t much different from younger adults. The following information is from A Place for Mom

Triggers include:

  • Alcohol/Substance Abuse
  • Change of environment, like moving from their longtime home into assisted living or a nursing home
  • Illness/physical disability
  • Changes in diet
  • Medication interaction (this can be a big one)
  • Illnesses that cause dementia (ex: Alzheimer’s)

Symptoms can show as:

  • Changes in appearance
  • Confusion, problems in decision making or concentration
  • Changes in appetite and/or weight
  • Memory issues
  • Social withdrawal
  • Trouble handling finances
  • Feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, suicidal thoughts, etc.
  • Depressed thoughts/mood lasting longer than two weeks

Mental illness can be hard to spot in senior citizens because it can be masked with other conditions. Many simply don’t feel the need to see their primary care provider (or other providers) for mental health issues. They also may see depression as “normal” with aging.

Some of the symptoms that are seen with depression- sleep and appetite changes, memory and concentration problems- are seen as a part of getting older. Some medications can cause these changes or even make them worse but are not always mentioned.

This information is courtesy of US News

Dance

What Can You Do?

Resistance may be a roadblock to getting your loved one to receive treatment. It’s best to have a plan for that before approaching them. There may be some shame involved in getting help, which is common. If you run into resistance, you can try focusing on the symptoms versus the disorder itself. Of course, it’s a good idea to get support for yourself.

If the situation has progressed to a point in which you need to discuss care outside the home, it may be time for a more in-depth talk.

  • Choose a time when everyone involved is calm.
  • Don’t take resistance personally. The resistance is likely from fear of the unknown.
  • If the discussion doesn’t go well the first time, try again.
  • If needed, get paperwork completed to properly care for your loved one. Adult children can get a power of attorney for their parent to make medical decisions as needed.

This information also found at A Place for Mom

If your loved one does agree to treatment, cheer them on and help them as much as possible. It is possible for anyone with a mental illness to live a full life, no matter what their age. Some need more help and encouragement than others and this is entirely okay. Having a plan will help everyone involved.

Pics courtesy of unsplash

Teens and Privacy: Where Do You Draw The Line?

The Challenges of Social Media

Teens are a challenge and a half. I’m just wandering into the pool of those challenges- most of them weren’t even on my radar until recently.

Everyone needs privacy. We need our space from others, physically and emotionally. We need our own space to grow and express thoughts. Teens need this for many reasons, one of the biggest reasons being that they are trying to figure themselves out. Remember how hard that was? Yikes.

Resist the urge to hover- this may lead to your child hiding things from you and/or lying. This can lead to worse things that you anticipated.

What Our Parents Didn’t Worry About

In the age of technology, privacy can get a bit worrisome. Parents have a lot more to worry about now than our parents did. We have to worry about Instagram and other social site pictures being too revealing and suggestive.

We have to worry about our kids being bullied because that ends tragically far too often. We worry about our kids being targeted while they play video games. These are just a few things that our parents never had to think about.

Black and white computer pic

Talking to Your Children

Opening up a conversation about privacy can be a bit awkward. It’s hard to start the conversation without being weird- you may have to look for an opening.

Do you already have an open relationship with your child? If you do, this may be a bit easier. If not, you may have to do a little more work to ease into it.

Go to my Freebie Page and find some helpful tips for talking to your kids. They require careful steps but in the end, everyone will be glad for the talk. The teenage years can get pretty awkward and a bit scary. Kids need to know they can talk to their parents about anything, including things that go on in the electronic world.

What if my child won’t talk or let me see what I ask for?

This is a rough one. Some kids aren’t talkers. I’ve got a couple. I’m not saying just let the quieter kids be- because they still need to know the importance of opening up and respecting this request. Losing their privilege can be a huge incentive to give you the information you want.

Assure your child that they can come to you if they are scared. That may be all they need.

There are some great apps for keeping an eye on what your kids do online- I use Net Nanny and it is super simple. It’s free and sends me a weekly summary of anything blocked or warned due to something the kids shouldn’t have looked up or sites they don’t need to be on. They also know about this and that they will lose all privileges if I get anything from this page.

As of this post, nothing has ever popped up in the whole time I have had this installed. We share a YouTube account and I can see everything they look up on Google. Some parents I know require their kids to charge devices together in one room after a certain time, access to devices (including phones) at any time they request it, or a little bit of both.

As of now, one of my kids has a phone, and it’s highly monitored. The tablets haven’t been much of a challenge so far.

I’m not a fan of breaking and entering into your child’s room. I don’t recommend this at all, except in one condition. That condition is if you are certain your child is in imminent danger and/or there is illegal activity involved. By all means, break down the door and go for it. This also applies for self-harm and other mental health reasons.

I’m hoping that I never have to sneak in my kids’ room and go through their things. I hope we are able to talk through things and come to a solution first.

What are your thoughts?


Talking About Pride

Coming Out of the Closet

I decided to use an actual definition for this one, because I understand that not everyone may be clear on this one. I also think it’s the respectful thing to do. I’ve got friends and family members in the community, so I’m very clear on what this term means. Planned Parenthood- Coming Out Definition

It’s a hard process. Some people choose to wait until a certain time, some never do. It’s an individual choice, and should be respected. If someone comes out to you, please respect that person’s decision to tell you, even if it isn’t within your own values. It takes a lot to say “I’m a lesbian” or “I like guys”, or however it is said.

There is a lot of fear in coming out, however. Many people fear these things:

  • not being accepted. If there is a history of hearing homophobic slurs throughout life, it’s going to be hard to go against that.
  • getting cut off financially/becoming homeless- especially in teens and college students. Some wait until after college for this reason.
  • anxiety, depression or other mental health issues worsening afterwards due to above issues.

There is so much more support these days for the LGBTQ+ community. I feel there is a long way to go in the legal world, but it’s coming.

Marriages were a huge issue a couple years ago and I shed tears when they became legal everywhere. I believe some states are still trying to fight that one. Macklemore had it right when he said in “Same Love”- “No freedom until we’re equal/ Damn right I support it”.

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Pride Events

Have you ever been to a Pride event? I have been to quite a few. Louisville is a big city and every June, there’s a huge Pride event. The event has lots of food (my main requirement for anything), music and a lot of other fun things.

I usually see a lot of friends while I’m there. It’s so much fun. If you’ve never been, and you’re comfortable going, go. If you aren’t sure if there is an event near you, try looking on Google “pride events” and your city or the nearest city to you. Not everyone lives in or near a big city.

These events began as a way for people to get together, have fun, be themselves, meet others and not fear being judged or getting hurt. Of course, this didn’t always go well but over the years, the events have become safer. There will always be those that oppose these events.

The Kid Version

I have a friend, Kate, that is happily raising a son, with her wife, Christy. Lucas just turned two, and he is the happiest toddler that I’ve seen in a long time.

I hope he stays that adorably happy. They got married in Hawaii a few years ago and the pictures were adorable. I know they have struggles like everyone else, but they’re one of the cutest couples I’ve ever known. Lucas is like every other toddler out there- he just has two loving moms.

I wrote a post not long ago, LGBTQ Kids: A Guide for those who need a bit of help figuring out how to navigate the waters of having a child that identifies as LGBTQ.

This is becoming more common than people realize and I wanted to bring that to your, my readers’, attention. If you know someone who could benefit from it, feel free to send them the link.

I think it could help parents who aren’t sure what to do. We don’t always know what to do as parents, or even aunts, uncles, and so on. That’s okay. That’s why we ask others for ideas and read up.

Kids are pretty smart. They can tell who accepts them and who doesn’t. They’ll stay closest to those that do. All kids, no matter their sexuality, need someone who loves and accepts them exactly for who they are. They don’t need or deserve ridicule for who they love. They have enough to worry about.

Mental Health Issues in The Community

Anxiety and depression are common in many people. When you are struggling with hiding who you are (or feeling like you have to), losing someone you love and having to start over in a small pool of people and not feeling fully accepted,things can get very hard.

Drugs, alcohol and self-harm are three coping skills that are used by this population. Sometimes it can be deadly. There are therapists that specialize in LGBTQ issues.

This may be a good time to look into how you can become an ally or otherwise support the LGBTQ people in your life. How can you be an ally?

Pics courtesy of Unsplash

Therapy office

Learning and Performing Under Pressure

*Trigger Warning: this post discusses suicide and suicidal thoughts. Please read at your own discretion.*

This post is for all mental health providers, professionals, physicians and dentists. I’m writing with a few people in mind- coworkers I’ve lost to suicide, and one that I admire deeply for being an attempt survivor and psychologist. Colleen, Scott, Austin, Jake and Don Ceo, this one is for you. The five of you were great to work with- I just wish it could have been longer. You were all awesome people in your own ways.

Josh, I’m so grateful you lived for many reasons, one being so that we could become friends. I had no idea what you’d been through right before we met. You’ve been able to help a lot of people in a career that you love deeply. I’m always here for you, but you know this.

Stethoscope mental health

The Research Is Out There

I had to do quite a bit of research for this post. I was aware that going into the medical field, no matter what specialty, comes with a lot of stress. Medical school, practicums, clinicals, theses, and other expectations can really throw a lot at a student.

That’s not counting other things that happen while in college and beyond- marriage, children, family issues, and so on. What happens if your thesis is thrown out? What if you don’t get the residency you wanted? What if your grades aren’t what everyone, including yourself, expected? So many questions and thoughts can run through a student’s mind. I wasn’t aware, however, of the statistics of physician suicide.

I’m using the term “physician” as a general term, but it is meant to cover all medical professionals. It’s a very stressful career. According to WebMD one physician completes suicide a day, making it the highest suicide rate of any profession. The general population rate is about 12.3 per 100,000, but in physicians, it is 28-40 per 100,000.

Many of these physicians have underlying untreated mental health issues. This shows a large need for early diagnosis, outreach and treatment. Up to 30% of residents have shown symptoms of depression. Depression is affecting up to 12% of males and 19% of females in this profession. It’s dangerous for anyone to ignore their mental health, and even more for those that care for us. More information about this topic can be found in The Dangers of Ignoring Mental Illness

The main, and possibly unique factors in physician suicide are:

  • high demands/extreme stress
  • competitiveness
  • long hours/lack of sleep
  • substance abuse
  • stigma of seeking help because of fear of losing their job- this is a major issue
  • access to lethal means- highly powerful medications
  • patient deaths/malpractice suits
  • burnout

You can read about the stigma of men seeking help for mental health issues in Men and Mental Health

Therapist office mental health

What Is Being Done?

Many facilities and medical schools are trying to pick up on this important issue and help those that are struggling. Many physicians have lost a colleague to suicide, which is a feeling I know all too well. In their case, however, they don’t get the time to grieve. Male anesthesiologists are at the highest risk, according to Washington Post due to the medications they have access to. Like many others that die by suicide, many physicians are very skilled at disguising their feelings. They may appear happy but yet suffering on the inside.

There is a stigma within the medical community with seeking help for mental health issues. Many are afraid that they will lose their job and/or license. They fear that their care won’t remain confidential. Some go to different cities or towns and pay cash to keep from having to report to the state boards. They also have little time away from their demanding schedules to get the care they need. These physicians care so much for others, including their own families, they barely have time for themselves.

Facilities are beginning to create cultures in which employees feel comfortable talking about what they are dealing with, minus consequences. This shows physicians do have feelings, they are not robotic. They need to support each other. More research is being done in this area to help gather more understanding for the future.

Some facilities and schools are creating peer support groups so that students/employees feel less alone during rough times. Work/life balance is also being encouraged a lot more in workplaces. Medical schools are incorporating self-care into their professional development classes. They are also teaching classes on how to notice changes in their co-workers. This can be so beneficial. This information can be found on Physician Leaders

Distressed woman mental health

Experience Led Me Here

In a decade of work, I’ve worked with a lot of people in a variety of places. I never thought about someone I worked with completing suicide. Someone dying in a car crash? Maybe. Cancer or another devastating illness? Okay. For some reason, suicide didn’t enter my mind. It did when Colleen died, and to this day, I still can’t listen to anything by The Beatles without feeling sad. They were her favorite band, and “Let it Be” was played at her funeral.

The last mental health facility I worked at, sadly, has left me changed forever. One suicide occurred months after I started (Scott), then in 2015, two happened- less than a month apart. Everyone was incredibly sad- how does this happen? Austin and Jake are missed terribly by those that loved and cared about them, myself included. I missed Austin’s visitation and funeral because I was sick, but Jake’s was standing room only. He would have been surprised to see how many people cared about him.

Recently, another former co-worker from there died by suicide, and everyone is wondering the same thing- how does this happen? I don’t think there is an exact answer. It is hard to know what people go through daily, even when they seem well put-together.

A Message

Be kind. You never know what the person next to you is going through. They may not be in a deep depression, but might just be having a very hard day. If someone you know is struggling, do what you can to help, even if that’s just listening to them for a while.

If you’re reading this and you are a mental health professional/physician, please reach out if you need it. We need you.

Pics courtesy of Unsplash

Suicide and the Media

**Trigger warning: suicide and its terminology is mentioned in this post. Please use your own discretion in reading this post.**

Just about everyone has access to the Internet these days. If you’re reading this post, you have it, unless someone printed it out for you. The Internet is full of information- some of it is utterly useless, some is great. I’m constantly using it for research for this blog, because I admittedly don’t know everything about the topics I write about. That’s partially why my Resources page exists.

A High-Profile Life, But What Lies Beneath?

I choose topics for certain times for a reason- this is Suicide Prevention Week and I wanted to highlight how the media handles discussing suicide. Over the summer, two very high-profile celebrities, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, completed suicide. Both were well known in their fields. Kate was a very talented fashion designer and Anthony was a chef. It was known that Anthony struggled with substance abuse issues, but Kate was struggling privately. Before her death, she was seeing a mental health provider and taking medication. This does not equal the end of suicidal thoughts and/or ideations, as her death shows.

What does lie beneath?

How does the media handle this?

I read a lot. Some outlets are changing their wording from “committed suicide” to “completed suicide” or other phrases, which is a positive change. This is making suicide look less like a criminal thing (“committed” is usually a term used in criminal circumstances, and suicide is not a crime) and more of a personal term. The media still has a lot of work to do. The community still has a lot of work to do as a whole.

How Can Reporting and Discussing Change?

According to an article on Psychology Today there are ways that the media and community can do better in this discussion.

Leaving out the means or method of suicide. Personally, I think this is deeply disrespectful to speak about. I have been told the entire story of Jake’s death, but I’d never go public with it. He was a private person and I couldn’t do that. Plus, his family would be very upset with me. Many suicides, like Jake’s, aren’t a story that people want to talk about. If there was a note, that is helpful to note, but not to include specific information. That is better left for the family. Basically, report the minimum and leave the deeper knowledge of what happened to the family.

Trying to avoid language that inflates the prevalence of suicide. This is one that I am trying to work on myself, I believe I said in a post that this is a heartbreaking epidemic. I may go back and edit it, but in case I don’t (because many of you know my memory is atrocious) please know that has been noted. I’ll work on that in the future. When reading about suicide, some may think that this is an acceptable option to their issues. I don’t want anyone reading this blog to ever think that, because that’s what I am trying to avoid.

Focus on the deceased’s life- not just their death. I am a huge fan of this. This keeps their memory alive. This way, they are not remembered for how they died, but how they lived. This also means to leave out pictures of visibly upset friends or family, or photos of the scene. (Who does that?)

How Can Individuals Do More?

Continue the conversation. Some are afraid to talk about mental health issues and/or suicide because of the fear of stigma. The real change occurs, however, when people do talk. It makes a more comfortable climate in which to discuss these things and the stigma (hopefully) fades. This can help the discussion keep going after the news cycle ends.

Remember that mental health issues and suicide doesn’t discriminate.

Encourage that anyone that is having suicidal thoughts seek help. Also, if anyone you know needs other mental health assistance, please help them however you can. This may mean help with finding a therapist, transportation, etc.

The Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741) is available 24/7

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 (veterans press 1)

You can also go to a nearby ER or mental health care facility.

It’s a rough world out there, let’s make it a bit easier on each other.

Pics courtesy of Unsplash Pinterest