for release July 27, 2001
by Melodie Davis
Depression Among the Elderly
Some have said we are only three relationships removed from anyone in the world. That is, it only takes three steps to find a mutual acquaintance between you and any other person.
For instance, I was once photographed by a photographer, who the next day was taking the presidential family's Christmas photo in Washington D.C. So I figured that put me two steps away from the first family. I know that's pretty obscure, but you see how to play the game. Probably doesn't always work, but I'm frequently amazed at how often it does.
Velma Cozzutto is an 80-year-old woman who submitted a manuscript for one of the papers I edit. She lives on the other side of the continent from me, yet she discovered that a couple she knows are acquaintances of my parents, which we both found pretty amazing. She sent me a book she wrote, Common Sense & Common Ground, which is a collection of columns she wrote for a newspaper in Aberdeen, Washington, which gave me a fresh thought. Frequently readers write to me and say, "Oh, you have put something into words for me. Now I know that I am not alone."
In the introduction to her book Velma writes, "What I cherish most in these years of interacting with my community through these columns is that most comforting of all discoveries, that I am not alone. In various ways, so many of you have let me know I am simply saying for you what you would say if you were in my place."
I thought, "Oh, yes, it does work both ways, doesn't it?" So I am not alone either, in my feelings, reactions and experiences-and sometimes my opinions. (Although I appreciate hearing from people who have an opposing point of view, too.)
So whether we are trying to build associations with people through making obscure connections, or realizing we are not alone when we learn that other people have the same thoughts and feelings, it helps to feel connected to others.
The opposite of that-when we feel isolated, alone, like no one cares, is when feelings of despondency and depression can creep in. I've been particularly concerned about depression among the older population: 25 percent of all suicides occur among the elderly, while they make up only 13 percent of the population. The rate has risen in recent years and elderly males commit suicide 13 times more frequently than females. Finally, they have a higher "success" or completion rate. Among youth ages 15-24, there is one suicide for every 100-200 attempts, while for persons over the age of 65, there is one completed suicide for every four attempts. (<http://hospice.hypermart.net/elderly.html>) And of course, many elderly suffer from depression who don't ever attempt suicide.
Even though many elderly suicide victims have seen their doctor within one week of their attempt, diagnosing and treating depression among the elderly is especially difficult. So often people think that depression naturally accompanies old age, or it is masked by other symptoms. It is underreported because elderly patients are used to having their concerns dismissed or explained away, and adequate communication between doctor and patient is either difficult (hearing, understanding, etc.) or not private (when a family member accompanies them).
Feeling alone is the most natural thing in the world-and it only increases with age, I'm afraid, as natural isolation occurs. Knowing that you aren't the only one should help to reduce the shame and stigma that some still attach to depression. "Even though depression is a medical illness, there is still enormous stigma attached to this disease," says Dr. Drew Pinksy, of the radio show Loveline and chief of staff at Las Encinas Hospital, Pasadena, Calif. "Many people continue to view depression as a personality trait, something to snap out of. In fact people with depression can't snap out of it any more than people with other diseases can. Depression is not a personality flaw, and it is highly treatable."
Just as all of us are usually willing to seek help for physical problems we are having, so we should be willing to seek help for emotional or mental problems. If the doctor doesn't listen, seek another one, or enlist the help of your friends or relatives. That may be very difficult, but keep trying. There is help, and hope.
For a free pamphlet on depression, call 1-800-826-3632 or visit their website, www.IntimacyAndDepression.com.
Comments? Write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 735 words; end material = 105 words
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