Stress, Age and Depression
by Peter Shaw
Let me immediately confess to a close personal interest in this topic. Those of you who take the trouble to read my
history HERE will understand why that is. It does appear to be the case, though, that suicide in our Western societies appears to be most prevalent among older males. I expect there have been many studies about this – I don’t know, because I haven’t really researched the subject yet. I can, though, perhaps hazard a few guesses as to the reasons for this phenomenon.
The fact of ageing is itself a major stressor, particularly, I suppose, to those of a more macho nature – the kind we usually pity as they get older, with their feeble attempts to regain their youth. You know the kind – wearing wigs and toupees, dyeing their hair, driving quite unsuitable sports cars, wearing clothes more suited to boys of sixteen. Some may call this vanity, but I see it as a rather pathetic harking back to their glory days. They are clearly under constant personal stress, because of their inevitable ageing. They are no longer attractive to members of the opposite sex, they may have become grandparents or even great grandparents (worse), they may well be isolated socially, having retired from “work” and having lost many of their friends to death or old age homes. They are probably financially much worse off than the level they have been used to. All of this raises stress levels.
Most of us lead fairly unexceptional lives.
True, there are those who have been prominent or petty criminals, or concentration camp guards, or corrupt dictators, or have committed any of the other multifarious ways we humans have devised of causing stress to ourselves and others. There are also the opposite, the Mother Theresas of this world, the inventors of penicillin, the people who have achieved considerable success without crushing others along the way. There are precious few of these, though, and one problem we have anyway is in defining “success”. Many people today view this in material terms, whereas many of those who have gained huge material success have done so at the expense and sometimes the grief of others.
So those older folk among us who review their life and achievements are usually bitterly disappointed in themselves, which naturally leads to low self esteem and depression. This is particularly so if they are ordinary working people comparing their life to giants of industry and others with considerable material or social success.
Health and Strength
Both of these naturally ebb with age. It is sad to compare our physical prowess today with that of our youth, and this again can lead to low self esteem and depression. I myself came up against this with a nasty shock a few years ago when I was hiking in the mountains with a group of young to middle-aged people. I found that I simply couldn’t keep up with the rest of them, because of fatigue, aches and pains, shortness of breath and the unpleasant feeling that my radiator had
packed up and I was overheating ! This did not make me feel good about myself, especially as I have always prided myself on my hiking abilities, having once trekked around the Annapurna range in the Nepal Himalayas. It is galling to have to
abandon the activities of a lifetime because of physical infirmities.
Many of us go through life utterly neglecting our spiritual selves. We need to remedy this, especially in old age as a strong spirit is well able to withstand the stress and pressures of age. By this, I do not necessarily mean being religious in the accepted sense of that word.
My definition of a strong spirit is one who has understood their own connectedness to all other living things, who as a result treats others with the respect he would accord himself, who understands his immortal nature, and that his approaching death is but a return to our spiritual home. Such a spirit truly loves others as himself, although not with a sexual or a romantic love, bur rather a familial love.
Given such attributes, a strong spirit can accept that all the negative aspects of ageing and of our lives are all truly insignificant. Only the weak or the truly evil spirits suffer.