This post was originally published on December 30, 2015.
No one is a fan of aging but I am sure few dislike it more than those who are forced to deal with getting older, and all the issues that come along with it, on a daily basis. That is probably why, according the Bel Marra Health, people over the age of 75 have a higher suicide rate than other age groups.
The reason this fact shocked me is that when I think about people ending their own lives, I generally picture angst-ridden teenagers or younger folks who are struggling from addiction, depression or other mental health issues—not a sweet old lady who walks with a cane.
Not Happily Ever After
Yet it’s not uncommon for older people to suffer from depression due to a variety of factors—such as the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine being less abundant in the brain. Anxiety disorders are also prevalent in the elderly but often get overlooked or confused with other age-related issues like dementia. And this might be more serious than it sounds. A new study has found people with anxiety disorders could actually be aging more rapidly than people who don’t. If that doesn’t give you anxiety, I don’t know what will.
But it’s true. Research shows that people who suffer from chronic anxiety have shorter telomeres, a part of the cell that affects aging, than people who don’t—which means that if you are severely afraid of getting older, you are living a horrible self-fulfilling prophecy. And with depression and anxiety on the rise in young people, this doesn’t fare well for the younger generation.
Don’t Need Mo’ Years to Have Mo’ Problems
Of course, older folks haven’t cornered the market on anxiety and depression. Eyewitness News reported that the 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation said people reach their peak risk for depression and anxiety in their 20s and early 30s (and I can personally attest to that!) But experts agree that these disorders have noticeably increased in younger people in recent years and—surprise, surprise—they point to social media as a leading culprit. (This is a topic we have addressed several times on this site.)
But whether it’s the pressures imposed by the fake happiness of others on social media or not, this new study pointing to anxiety causing premature aging makes the terms “worry wart” and “compare and despair” seem a lot less light-hearted. Especially since so many people still refuse to seek help for their emotional issues because of the stigma attached to it.
Won’t Do Meds? Fine. Ride a Bike.
So if you or someone you care about—of any age—might be struggling with depression and/or anxiety, it is time to get honest about the risks. While we can’t convince everyone to seek professional help, encouraging loved ones to maintain a regular exercise routine, keep an active social life, get enough sleep, develop hobbies, adopt a pet and laugh more can be subtle yet effective ways to help minimize suffering.
Does that list of suggestions make you anxious? Deal with it. The alternative is worse.