Good Mental Health for Women Over 50
What is it? What can affect it? & How can you keep it?
Although we use the term “Mental Health” often to describe being depressed or anxious it actually is all about being well mentally. Just like any other kinds of wellness it has signs and symptoms when things are not quite right and it has a huge range of causes and treatments.
In Australia alone it is estimated that 1 in 5 women will experience depression and 1 in 3 will experience anxiety during their lifetime. 1
Depression can occur at any time in your life and being over 50 is no exception. If you think about it this can actually be the time of your life when you might experience the biggest amount of change. These days you might also be caring for your parents as well adding yet another layer onto your life.
Menopause also plays with your body and your mind as the changes in your oestrogen levels wreak havoc with you physically and mentally.
What exactly is depression?
This is not a one-day thing where you feel down in the dumps, I would hazard a guess we all have those days. I often call them my “Bad Hair Days”. This goes on longer than that.
So you may have depression if you’ve felt sad, down, miserable most of the time, or have lost interest or pleasure in usual activities for a period of two weeks or longer. ( Beyond Blue.org.au)
You may notice changes in your behaviour, your feelings, your thoughts and you might also have actual physical symptoms like headaches and being tired.
How do you get it?
Well it isn’t quite as simple as when you catch a cold or the flu. Depression can happen as a result of a recent event, such as loss of a partner, friend or even your job. Sometimes this is a little like the straw that broke the camel’s back where a lifetime of things that have happened to you all come together and hit you all at once. Things like abuse, loneliness and even prolonged stress.
You might have heard people say I was going really well and this or that happened and then I just couldn’t cope any more. Something just tips you over the edge.
It can also be linked to a family history, drug and alcohol use, being seriously ill as well as having a personality with a predisposition to worry and anxiety.
What to do about it?
The most important thing is to recognise that this is happening. If you have felt not quite yourself for a period of 2 weeks or more then get some help. There are some really good websites where you can find out more about this and even figure out if you really are depressed. I listed them at the end of the article.
You can and should find a health practitioner you can talk to about how you are feeling. For some people it may be their regular family doctor but for others it could be someone new at a community health service or even an online service. Sometimes it can be hard to open up to people who know you and that’s where online or phone services can be really helpful in giving what you perceive as a non-judgmental or safe hearing.
Treatments depend on the range and severity of your symptoms. These can range from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) through to medical intervention by using antidepressants or other drugs.
Even though there does not appear to be any high grade evidence about the effects of diet on mental health there is new evidence emerging everyday particularly in relation to the health of your gut. However, eating well can make you feel more energetic because you are getting the correct amount of vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats and carbohydrates to fuel your body.
Eating well, particularly moderating alcohol and other drug intakes can improve your sleep which is known to improve your mental health.
Exercise, particularly aerobic exercise is recommended as a tool for helping you manage depression.
Keeping Mentally Well.
This can be a challenge at any point in your life but I think that as we pass through 50 most women become a lot more aware of themselves, what they like and don’t like, and who they want to spend time with.
Using this self-awareness to fill your life with things you love goes a long way to keeping you mentally well. Add in some regular exercise, social activities you love and a well balanced diet that doesn’t make you feel deprived and you will be on the right track.
Resources that you may be interested in:
Beyond Blue an Australian initiative with an excellent downloadable book about treatment and the evidence for it.
Mental Health New Zealand has some good information about local support groups
Depression UK lots of detailed information about support in the UK
1 Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2008). National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 2007. Cat. no. (4326.0). Canberra: ABS.
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