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

What Meditation Can do for Your Mental Health

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Meditation is an interesting concept.

Reaching a calm spot in your mind can be hard, especially if life is busy. Your mind is racing with thoughts and slowing down can seem almost impossible.

There are meditation apps on both Apple and Android platforms, even on YouTube. It’s up to you. I prefer an app, Insight Timer. I like the selections- some are led by a person, some use music. I prefer the person.

I started meditating as part of running a group at a former job. I got really into the quiet time to gather my thoughts and just relax. Everyone knew that was my group. The patients also loved it- the group was usually packed.

I’ve gotten out of the habit and need to restart.

Less than five minutes can change your whole day.

Feeling Good All Over

Meditation can help your mind get into a better place, which can help the rest of your body.

How can you get to that place?

  • Find a comfortable space. I prefer sitting on my bed or couch, but this is entirely up to you. Some like sitting on a yoga mat on the floor as part of a yoga practice. It’s all about what makes you comfortable.
  • Quiet is a must. It is hard to meditate if there is a lot of noise in the room you are in, so try to find a good time/place to try this. It can be an almost impossibility with children, pets and/or other people, events, etc, but it’s possible.
  • Do you need a timer? Some do, some don’t. I’ve tried untimed and timed, and I prefer timed. Otherwise, my mind tends to wander off and it defeats the purpose.
  • It’s okay if your mind wanders. If you’ve never tried meditating before or you are coming back to it, your mind will tend to wander. It’s natural. It’s hard at first to let your mind just be. If you’re listening to meditation with words, it can be hard to listen to and connect to the meditation. This is why I suggest short ones at first. As you get deeper into practice, you can work up to longer ones, if you decide it is for you. Everyone has different needs and preferences.
  • Don’t force it. Meditation isn’t for everyone. If it isn’t for you, you will realize it.

Calm sky

Meditation can help you in the following ways:

  • concentration
  • relaxation- as you meditate, your breathing slows and deepens, helping you relax. Also, your mind clears. This is helpful in many situations.
  • pain management- keeping your mind off severe pain, even if for a short while
  • anger management- thinking through things before adverse actions, using relaxing breaths
  • stressful situations/anxiety
  • can help children and adults
  • sleep

Self-care is vitally important. I’ve covered this topic many times on this blog. It’s not just a passing fad or something to do when we’re bored or just when we have time, but something we should find time to do every day, even if it’s just five minutes. I entirely need to get better on the meditation- I love it. It helps me center my thoughts for the day. Restarting an old habit can be a pain sometimes. How do you do it?

For further reading:

Self-Care Isn’t Just Bubble Baths

Alone Time Is A Wonderful Thing

Is It Time for A (Mental Health) Break?

Book Review: “Fall to Pieces”

I love to read memoirs. For some reason, I really enjoy reading memoirs of those with addiction, and this was before my drinking became a problem. I’ve read “Life” by Keith Richards, which was fantastic but took three weeks because it’s over 500 pages.

I’ve also read Nikki Sixx’s book, “The Heroin Diaries”. It was a bit wild, but still very interesting. I’m just waiting for a member of Fleetwood Mac to come out with their memoirs. If anyone knows of one, please let me know.

I”ve read “Fall to Pieces” before, but it was a bit different re-reading it this time. This book was written by Mary Forsberg Weiland, the first wife of Scott Weiland.

He was the lead singer for Stone Temple Pilots, one of the best rock bands of the 90s. If you’re too young to know who this band is, you might want to go on YouTube. They were a great band. Scott died in December 2015, unfortunately from an overdose.

Book cover

The book opens with a very descriptive explanation of her childhood in California, a bit in New Jersey after her mom’s remarriage and, of course, when she met Scott.

Mary also became a model while moving around and became quite successful while still a teen. She also met her best friends during this time. She became friends with Anthony Kiedis, lead singer of Red Hot Chili Peppers. They have remained friends for many years.

It wasn’t until I read Scar Tissue, his autobiography, that I understood all the while Anthony was being my true friend, his own soul was being badly shaken.”

This stood out. We don’t always know what our friends are going through, much less anyone else. People hide things but still make things look at least bearable. I’ve been there for my friends through their own issues but yet struggling through my own.

The story of her relationship and later, marriage, with Scott, is so well detailed. She tells of the good, bad and in between. They were together off and on nearly a decade before marrying, and they had two kids together- a daughter and a son.

During this time, Mary drank and used a lot of substances. She knew it wasn’t the best way to live, but it took multiple attempts to finally stop using.

Mary also has had a long battle with bipolar disorder, possibly beginning when she was a teen. It’s hard for her or anyone else to know. She wasn’t diagnosed until well into adulthood, and this is well documented in the book. She struggled to accept this diagnosis along with being an addict.

Many people with either issue do. I will say she is being treated and is sober, but I won’t spoil the ending for you on how she got there.

Mary shared a quote from a community college class:

“In recovery, we look for progress, not perfection.”

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This is very accurate. Nobody is perfect, and anyone recovering from any kind of addiction certainly isn’t. Progress is what counts the most. It is not close to easy, and anyone who tells you it is- they are not entirely correct.

One of my best friends, Tyson, once asked me if I was okay while sitting at dinner and the talk to turned to beer for a while. I wasn’t a fan of beer to begin with, and he knows this, but he was making sure I wasn’t thinking about having a drink.

I wasn’t, but I am very grateful that he asked. It took a year before I could even go into a sports bar. “One day at a time” is the best quote I have ever heard that applies to recovery.

As many of us know, Scott and Mary did not work out (the section about the end of their marriage is a sad one) but they were able to co-parent, at least as of the writing of this book. I’m one of the millions of fans that were saddened to hear of Scott’s death. He was incredibly talented, like many others, but yet, he had an addiction that he was never quite able to end.

Pic courtesy of Google

What You Can Do when Mental Health Affects Work

Part of adulting means working, for most of us.

Our careers are meant to give life a chunk of meaning, reflect part of who we are. For example, I chose psychology because I like helping people and I’m curious to know what causes (at least in part) why people do the things they do. My Career in Psychology reflects this choice and the different jobs that I have taken on this path. It’s been interesting. Real Stories of a (Former) Mental Health Worker is a slightly funnier reflection on the best job I have ever had. If you’ve worked in psychology, especially at a mental health facility, you’ll get a few laughs.

Stressed at work

However, when our emotional well-being takes a negative turn, most aspects of our lives are affected. This includes work- it’s hard to concentrate or even show up when you don’t want to get out of bed, get dressed or leave your home.

A Few Interesting Facts

According to Mental Health America, clinical depression is one of America’s costliest illnesses. If it’s left untreated, depression is as costly as heart disease or AIDS in the cost of lost productivity, absenteeism during a person’s prime working years. Most people, which is around 80%, can be successfully treated and live a full life with clinical depression. It’s about the same with anxiety. Other mental illnesses may have lower rates due to their severity and other factors.

  • Most of those who take short term disability due to depression are female.
  • Many of those with depression will not seek treatment because they are worried about confidentiality (a large issue in the medical field) and/or the effect it will have on their employment.
  • Untreated mental health issues can lead to strained relationships with co-workers.
  • Around 50% of those surveyed say that anxiety has diminished the quality of their work. (I have had this issue and it is not pretty.)
  • Once this becomes an issue, many do not want to speak to their supervisor about their stress because of fear of how they will be seen- as weak, not willing to work, etc.

Work

How Can I Tell There is a Problem?

Do you dread going to work?

Are you always the first out the door when your shift/day is over?

Do you feel like you have too much on your plate at work but feel you can’t say anything?

Have you lost the “spark” in your work?

If you’ve answered “yes” to any of those, it might be time to step back and think for a minute. If you have additional stressors like anxiety, depression or another mental health issue, it may be time to re-evaluate your job.

You may already be trying to handle the issue without knowing it by doing things like:

  • taking longer to complete tasks
  • calling in sick/coming in late frequently
  • having issues with co-workers

How can you handle this in a healthy way?

  • Make a to-do list. This can help with overwhelm in general but can be very helpful at work. It feels good to check things off a list after staying on track.
  • Take frequent breaks. Work for an hour, take a five-minute break- even if this means just walking down the hall for a few minutes. Moving around can help a bit. This may need a tweak depending on your environment, but make it work for you.
  • Try not to take on too much. This can be difficult, especially if you like to help out, but it may lead to the overwhelm you are trying to avoid. Think carefully before you take on another project or committee.
  • Set small goals. You can break down big tasks into smaller, manageable things so that it doesn’t feel so scary.
  • Add personal items to your workspace. I had pics of my kids all over my locker in the breakroom at the mental health facility I worked at. You could barely see the inside of the locker door. It was a bit of a boost on the hard days.
  • What are your triggers? What bothers you? I am a huge fan of finding these things out. Everyone has something that sets them off- what is it about the job that stresses you out the most? Try to do something calming before that, if possible, even if it’s just deep breathing. When I was a substance abuse counselor, I kept a bottle of bubbles in my office. If I knew I was about to have a difficult session, I would close my office door and blow bubbles for a minute or two before and after. It helped.

This information is from Learn How to Become

HR talk

A Word About Human Resources

If all else fails, please speak to your supervisor. Things do and can happen. Mental health is not a joke or meant to be taken lightly. If you know that things are going badly for you, no matter what your diagnosis, even if you don’t have one, please talk to your supervisor. If you don’t feel okay doing so, then go to Human Resources.

They have ways to help you out, and even more, these people want to help you. That’s why they’re employed! There’s an interesting program that most employers have called an Employer Assistance Program that offers FREE counseling for up to six sessions, depending on the company. Sometimes it’s six sessions period, sometimes it’s six sessions per issue. Again, this depends on your company. I highly advise looking into it. After those sessions are up, they can refer you out to long term therapy if you are into that.

You’re worth it and so is your career.

Most employers want their employees to succeed and are catching up (slowly) to their needs. It may be scary as hell to ask for help, but again, you’re worth it. I’m willing to bet that you are not the first or only person at your job to ask for help.

Sometimes, losing your mojo completely may be one of many factors (long commute, extreme work conditions, etc) that play into work dissatisfaction, and if so, maybe it is time to leave. Mental health can be a large one, however, and should be looked at. How do you feel every day going into and leaving work? That’s a question only you can answer.

Has mental health been an issue where you work? Have you left a job due to stress/anxiety?

Photos courtesy of Unsplash

How Can People Pleasing Hurt You?

I like (some) people.

Those people make me happy and I like to try to make them happy. This is how friendships and relationships work, at least in part, right?

Falling Into a Pattern

It’s one thing to try to make people happy when you can and it’s reciprocated, but sometimes, without seeing it, we can fall into a pattern of “people pleasing”.

I describe this as doing things that you may or may not be okay with or may even be detrimental to your life (financially, emotionally, physically, or in other ways, and can be a combination of these).

Everyone has a point, however, in which it just becomes too much.

Do we always see it?

No.

Do we try to change the pattern if we do?

Sometimes.

In a way, this goes back to how we are raised. Some families are rooted in religious and/or other traditions that basically require putting your needs aside for others. Even so, there’s still room for self-care. There’s space for not resenting putting yourself behind others.

Of course, our parents usually raise us in the way they were and not too long ago, it was understood that most girls were taught to please everyone, even if it made them miserable. Lily got lucky because I didn’t like this idea. This idea is still out there but is changing.

“No” is NOT the end of the world

If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume that you’re an adult.

When we were little, if we didn’t get what we wanted, we threw tantrums. If you’ve got kids, you have probably been on the receiving end of one. If not, please tell me what your secret was. Send an email, DM, something. I’m curious.

If you get nothing else out of this post: no is not the end of the world. Read that many times if needed.

Feelings tend to build up over time and if you spend most of yours doing everything that you don’t want to, those feelings aren’t going to be positive ones. Resentment, anxiety, and depression are just a few emotions that might pop up.

What can say “No” do for you?

  • Free up time that you would rather be doing something else
  • Give a sense of control
  • Increase sense of self-esteem
  • Relieve the stress of having to do something you don’t want to
  • Lead to other areas in your life that you can work on, like assertiveness, self-worth, etc.

People might be a bit surprised at first because they’re so used to you saying “yes” to everything, but they will get used to it. If they get mad, well, they just get mad. This might be weird and slightly weird but… It pays off.

Swear.

In the meantime, you get to have the fun of figuring out what matters to you. How do you want to spend your time? How do you feel about getting back control of your life, even by taking just one step?

Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

You’re back?

I’ll continue.

Taking back your life

After you put some thinking and action into not making everyone happy…what’s next?

You can read Setting Healthy Boundaries to get a good idea on where to start. Are You Meeting Your Needs? can also be a bit helpful. Those posts are full of tips to assist you in feeling okay with making your life a bit easier and hopefully, happier.

Changes like these don’t happen overnight, so don’t get upset with yourself if you slide backwards. It happens. Just keep trying.

I’m no expert here, but things do get easier after making changes for yourself, at least in this capacity.

Go forth and be awesome!

I’m raising money to get a book published, please go here for more information. ❤