If you were born in the 1950s, you’ve experienced many things: the Cold War, the civil rights movement, the space race. You were raised with the sting of rubbing alcohol to treat cuts and gasoline to clean hands. You were counseled with sayings such as: “grin and bear it,” “tough it out,” or “rub some dirt on it.”
This year, the challenge of COVID-19 is putting people 65 and older in a vulnerable position. And while this generation is famous for its tough “can do” exterior and “do it yourself” attitudes, there are several good reasons that the senior population should take an honest look at their mental health and be more willing to reach out for help.
Here are three reasons for folks over 65 to see a therapist...
We don’t have to tell you about this. You see it in the lists of people on the last pages of your high school and college alumni newsletters. You read it in the obituaries. And the grief and loss experienced by the elderly is not only related to death. There is also the inherent loss of abilities, independence, and a sense of purpose, all of which can impact mood, physical ability, and general health and wellness.
“I feel that I’m dissolving,” a woman in her 70s related. “Part of me disappears with the passing of my siblings, childhood friends, even the places where I grew up and went to school. They’re gone, and I feel less relevant, less solid, with each one that passes.”
You may be healthy, but classmates, teammates, veteran buddies, and former friends may not be as fortunate as you are. This has a profound effect on your feelings about your own mortality. And now COVID-19 adds the twist of not being able to visit seriously ill friends, formally grieve, or gather to pay your respects and live out the rituals that are such an important part of the passing of life.
A skilled therapist can help steer you towards grieving strategies that allow you to find closure and to feel present and complete, even if you can’t offer your traditional goodbyes.
Data shows that isolation and boredom can have a brutal effect on our emotions. For seniors living alone, this may be especially difficult. For seniors living with a partner who requires additional physical, emotional, or behavioral support, this time in isolation can be additionally challenging.
Therapy provides an important time to focus entirely on yourself and what you are experiencing. A licensed therapist is not only a great listener, but also a highly skilled agent of change who can help you gain perspective, think differently about the world around you, develop coping skills, and approach the things that cause your emotional pain from a healthier and more productive point of view.
Distance has always been a barrier for families, but many traditionally gather for a reunion, special holiday, or significant right of passage. COVID-19 has pushed all those options off the table. It is an especially cruel double-edged sword in that the family members that seniors so desperately want to see, represent a great risk to their health, and no child or grandchild wants to be responsible for the ill health of a senior. So the world outside goes by, without visits, or hugs, or cookies, or presents.
“I am perfectly healthy,” a fortunate senior says. “But what good does that do me when I can’t see anyone? I want to be with my family while I’m in good health. I want to enjoy time around the dinner table with my loved ones. I’m old enough to know that my time for doing those things is limited. I want to feel relevant to those I care about in the time I have remaining.”
People over 65 feel that life is going on without them. But “going it alone” is not your only option. Today’s therapists are highly trained, and focus on achieving successful outcomes, sometimes, in a short period of time. Old stereotypes of “couch sessions” with note-taking therapists and sessions that cost a lot of money and continue on for years aren't today's reality. The notion that seeking therapy means you are struggling with clinical depression or deep anxiety and need medication or hospitalization, is also long gone. Therapy today can be easy, comfortable, discreet, and highly effective, and in these COVID-19 days it can be very easy to find a therapist who is available, accepts your Medicare Advantage plan, and is willing to work with you in person or with private online video sessions for your safety and convenience.
The world has changed so much in your lifetime, and therapy has changed along with it. Instead of focusing on the “tough it out” and “keep a stiff upper lip” advice of your childhood, embrace where you are today. Be honest about the state of your mental health, and do all you can to be mentally, emotionally, and physically ready to accept all the friends, family, and hugs you have headed your way.
Take the first step toward improved mental health by finding a licensed therapist in your area.