Question: My husband has been different lately. Since he retired he seems tense and restless. He doesn’t sleep well and gets up early just to pace around, but then he doesn’t really get out and do anything that he used to enjoy doing. What’s wrong? I’m worried.Worried in Tehachapi
We all seek for the meaning and purpose in our lives. Why are we here? What gives you a sense of legitimacy in your life?
Many men have lived their lives deriving their sense of purpose – their feelings of legitimacy – from their jobs, or professions, or work related status. But once retirement comes to them, instead of retirement being a time of relaxation and recreation, it becomes a dark time of life without meaning or purpose.
The same is true for many mothers. Often women derive their sense of purpose or meaning from raising their kids. But once the kids are all grown and out of the house, many women find life less certain and search for their “place” in the home, and feel that they have lost their sense of legitimacy in life.
I know it’s sort of depressing just to read this, but it happens in homes all around Tehachapi every single day.
Sometimes people are able to “upgrade” where they find their sense of purpose or meaning in life, as they begin to look to a more “ultimate” source of personal legitimacy. But often people get stuck at this point in life, and given enough time they can become depressed.
Of course there are many possible causes of depression, and people young and old can become depressed. Children, teenagers, and young adults, can also experience major depression for a variety of reasons. Depression is not a “one size fits all” problem. But, even though there are a variety of reasons why someone might become depressed, the disease itself has very common characteristics in everyone.
Depression is one of the most pervasive and crippling of all diseases.
Fifteen-percent of all people, world-wide, will suffer from a Major Depressive Episode at some point in their lives. That means that of the estimated 35,000 people living in the 93561 zip code, over 5000 of us will suffer from a serious case of depression during our life-times.
Depression is more common than cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined. It is one of the most painful of all psychological disorders. It is a serious medical illness that impacts us physically, neurologically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Depression is a physical “neuro-biological” disorder, or “disease,” caused by a flood of stress hormones which impact the way the brain feels and functions. Sometimes people who are depressed have trouble sleeping, or eating, or concentrating, which are all physical neuro-biological symptoms.
The word “depression” is used a lot in our society, and usually is it misused and misunderstood. There are different types or degrees of “depression.”
- “Aversion” describes hard times of frustration, or short-term sadness;
- “Reactive Depression” describes periods of deep grief from loss, and there is usually an event that one can point to as the cause, such as the death of a loved one, a divorce, or loss of a job. Everyone grieves differently. Support groups such as Grief Share in Tehachapi can be very helpful to those who are grieving.
- “Major Depression” describes the condition where there is a long-term loss of the ability or capacity to feel pleasure. Depression is painful. It is often described to me as a “dark fog.” People suffering depression have difficulty sleeping well, and typically wake up early from agitation. They can have unrealistic feelings of guilt, or grief, and overall negative thinking about things. Typically there is a decreased appetite. Sometimes teenagers and young adults will cut themselves.
Please don’t ignore this, or just write it off as “a phase” or “wanting attention.” About ten percent of teens, and adults, will attempt or commit suicide if the condition is left untreated. Get help for your loved one dealing with depression.
People with depression often report that they don’t “feel” emotions like joy, happiness, or peace the way they once did, but instead only feel emotional pain. They often feel isolated from others, and begin to detach themselves from their friendships. And when people are depressed they often feel that God has forgotten or abandoned them. A deep, dark cloud of loneliness often descends on someone with depression.
People over the age of 70, and teenagers, are the two groups most at risk for suicide. The single biggest trigger for depression and suicidal thinking or attempts in people over 70 is the death of their spouse, and in teenagers it is breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend. Please take this seriously. Over 400,000 people experiencing the pain of depression will attempt suicide every year.
There are a number of possible medical causes to a major depressive “episode.” For example, most people are surprised to learn that about 20% of all depressive episodes are caused by thyroid problems that can be easily treated. Sometimes women suffer from depression because of hormone problems with estrogen or progesterone levels. And in 50% of the cases of major depression the levels of stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, are greatly elevated, which causes a decrease in the levels of dopamine in the brain. All of these can be evaluated by your physician today.
And in addition to the possible medical causes of depression, other possible causes can include stressful events today, or stressful events in one’s youth such as past abuse or neglect, a sense of betrayal or abandonment, hopelessness, grief, or a lack of meaning or purpose in life. These would be some of the emotional, psychological, or spiritual elements to a depressive episode.
The good news is that there are many effective ways to help people who are suffering from depression, or long-term sadness. Because it is a medical problem, sometimes medications can be helpful, but not always. About 33% of people with depression will be helped by medications alone. But 67% will need additional resources such as counseling by a professional therapist. And, frankly, sometimes the medication does strange things to people and puts them at additional risk, so it must be monitored closely by physicians. For less severe cases of depression there are over the counter remedies that can be helpful as well. But treatment for depression should always begin with a physician and a physical evaluation.
Dr. Douglas Cowan is a Marriage and Family Therapist providing professional Christian counseling to Bear Valley Springs, Tehachapi, and Bakersfield. If you are in Tehachapi you can connect with Dr. Cowan by calling (661) 972-5953 or email to Newideas.net @ gmail.com. For more information, grab your free copy of our handout on Depression from the seminars and workshops that we provide by visiting our website at http://douglascowan.me and there you will find your free handout under the “Articles” section.
Douglas Cowan, Psy.D., MFT
27400 Oakflat Dr.
Tehachapi, CA 93561