Depression and Aging

The not-so-golden years

My uncle passed away last week. He was in his "golden years." Although the funeral ceremony was jubilant--with laughter, assurances of life after death and song--the years leading up to his death were emotionally and physically difficult. He suffered with cancer. He was on dialysis. He could no longer do many of the activities he previously enjoyed.

My uncle--despite his ability to crack a joke or appreciate his loved ones and the nature surrounding him--recently told his son-in-law, "I'm not living in the golden  years. You are."

Each person's experiences with aging affect him or her to different degrees. Bodies wither; cognitive abilities decline; loneliness sets in; aches and pains are felt; friends and relatives die. 

It is no wonder that these difficult issues facing the elderly can trigger a mood disorder.


Resources for the elderly suffering with a mood disorder

I interviewed Dr. Grant Mullen, Christian, family physician and author of Emotionally Free, a Christian book about living a transformed life. I was interested in his views concerning mood disorders--depression, anxiety and mood swings--in the elderly.

"Yes, they do have additional issues you have mentioned, but the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment are the same as for others suffering from a mood disorder."

Dr. Mullen says Christians--at any age--suffer from mood disorders in unique ways because there is a spiritual element involved, and, in addition, many of them are reluctant to accept medical treatment. He says the church has a responsibility to deal with this tremendous problem affecting so many. Twice a week, throughout May, he appeared on 100 Huntley Street, speaking about mental, emotional and spiritual health.

"The elderly will benefit from a regular Christian support group for mood disorders, Dr. Mullen says, "just like anyone else." There is no need for seniors to have a separate support group. He emphatically agrees that the Living Room(livingroomsupport.org) is an excellent resource for churches. The website provides free resources for initiating a group in your local area.

In addition to Living Room, he suggests his curriculum involving DVDs (available through drgrantmullen.com). He says "DVDs are very effective for people with mood disorders because the nature of the disease causes them to become easily confused during regular devotions. Watching a DVD and then talking about it afterward is much easier for them."

Christian taboo's about mood disorders

"The need in churches for dealing with mood disorders is staggering," Dr. Mullen explains. "The burden of suffering is so high. Ten to fifteen percent of church families are affected, and eighty percent of all cases go undiagnosed and untreated. Very few Christians are talking about this because there is a stigma associated with mental illness."

He continues, "Christians get tripped up because they think they are dealing with a spiritual issue, when in fact, it is a mental health issue that is causing the problems. bEcause they think it is a spiritual issue, they try to go to Bible studies and prayer groups to find the answers there. They soon discover they can't concentrate or participate appropriately, so these places are of little help. Support groups specifically designed for mood disorders are very comforting because one realizes that other Christians are struggling with the same issues."

The body soul and spirit

Dr. Mullen believes that "Individuals are made up of the body, soul and spirit." He goes on to explain that the "body" can be affected by a chemical imbalance, often necessitating medication. The "soul" is the personality, involving current life experiences and wounds of the past, and its healing will often require counselling. The "spirit" can come under attack by Satan, for which spiritual support through participation in a program like Living Room, pastoral counselling and prayer can be effective.

"We need to address the body, soul and spirit of those suffering with mood disorders because they are all intertwined. If we deal with only one or two of these aspects of a person, there will be some recovery, but not to his or her full potential."

Seniors may feel as if they are not in their "golden years," but they certainly deserve all the necessary and effective mental, emotional and spiritual support possible, so that their remaining time on this earth can be lived to the fullest.

Glenda Dekkema is a freelance writer living in Stouffville, Ont.