The Impact of Depression On Ethnic Seniors

On TLH we have addressed various issues effecting the South Asian elderly community. The recent news article in the the New York Times on the difficulties encountered by many Sikh seniors in the California Bay Area was particularly heart wrenching.

In an article in New America Media, Paul Kleyman discusses the impact of depression on ethnic seniors. Many of his statements of seniors feeling alone and depressed resonated with the stories I have heard about Sikh seniors. I have often heard how Sikh seniors feel like America is a “sweet prison”. You have many material benefits, but also a tremendous amount of social isolation. Even when living with their children and grandchildren, the elderly miss their social life back in Punjab. In the US, the elderly spend the majority of their day separated from their children and grandchildren in time and space. Also, generational gaps coupled with cultural differences create social and emotional distance.

Kleyman writes that ethnic seniors are expected to have similar levels of depression as the white elderly population (about one in six people ages 50 and above), but the main difference is:

“… that African-American, Latino, Asian and Native-American seniors are less apt to get treated. Thats because of their higher levels of poverty, lack of insurance or access to treatment and the pervasive stigma of mental illness in many cultures. Left untreated, depression, anxiety disorder and related conditions can result in debilitating physical ailments, as people eat and sleep more poorly and become less physically active. ”

At the University of Washington, health experts found that when symptoms of depression diminished in seniors there was a reduction in overall medical costs by $3, 300 over four years. However, the main issue impacting immigrant seniors is the lack of effective mental-health interventions that are culturally sensitive.

I think Gurdwaras have played an important role in creating a social space for seniors. However, much more can be done to address their social service needs. I hope access to culturally sensitive mental health care is an important part of any Sikh senior center that is opened in America. Many times, when children want to help their parents with mental health issues they find it difficult to access adequate care that would actually impact their parents lives.


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14 Responses to “The Impact of Depression On Ethnic Seniors”

  1. Harinder says:

    1) People are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges.

    2) Separate we come, and separate we go, And this be it known, is all that we know.

    3) “Loneliness is the universal problem of rich people.”

  2. Harinder says:

    1) People are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges.

    2) Separate we come, and separate we go, And this be it known, is all that we know.

    3) “Loneliness is the universal problem of rich people.”

  3. Rajinder Singh says:

    Young and old alike can suffer from depression and it is a serious matter. In the last two weeks two famous cases of suicide were reported – Andrew Koenig (age-41), and Marie Osmonds' son (age – 21 ?). Life is not easy for many people. A person might seem normal, but can be suffering inside.
    My understanding is that there can be gap between expectations and reality. If Expectations are too high (like wanting to be really unique/special, and there is nothing wrong with that) but reality turns out to be different,the downside shock can cause depression. Human tendency is to keep aspiring for more, thereby forever creating a gap between expectations and reality, risking depression. For that reason the Guru advises maintaining a sense of gratitude for what a person has, and keeping desires in check.
    On the other hand expectations can be really normal , but reality is so horrible which is really, really unfortunate (like for victims of riots, abuse, broken lives, PTSD, returning veterans, etc) that there is a gap between normal expectations and reality, and depression can sink in – making matters even worse. This is the group that suffers the most for no fault of theirs- unless you consider having "normal expectations" was a fault to begin with. Nature has random acts of unkindness – like earthquakes, floods and Tsunamis to create horrible realities.
    Now that was my two bit theory on depression.
    Lucky are those who have loving people around them to take care of them when they are feeling low. For the rest of us , I am reminded of the old country song – If the phone doesnt ring – its me.

  4. Rajinder Singh says:

    Young and old alike can suffer from depression and it is a serious matter. In the last two weeks two famous cases of suicide were reported – Andrew Koenig (age-41), and Marie Osmonds' son (age – 21 ?). Life is not easy for many people. A person might seem normal, but can be suffering inside.
    My understanding is that there can be gap between expectations and reality. If Expectations are too high (like wanting to be really unique/special, and there is nothing wrong with that) but reality turns out to be different,the downside shock can cause depression. Human tendency is to keep aspiring for more, thereby forever creating a gap between expectations and reality, risking depression. For that reason the Guru advises maintaining a sense of gratitude for what a person has, and keeping desires in check.
    On the other hand expectations can be really normal , but reality is so horrible which is really, really unfortunate (like for victims of riots, abuse, broken lives, PTSD, returning veterans, etc) that there is a gap between normal expectations and reality, and depression can sink in – making matters even worse. This is the group that suffers the most for no fault of theirs- unless you consider having "normal expectations" was a fault to begin with. Nature has random acts of unkindness – like earthquakes, floods and Tsunamis to create horrible realities.
    Now that was my two bit theory on depression.
    Lucky are those who have loving people around them to take care of them when they are feeling low. For the rest of us , I am reminded of the old country song – If the phone doesnt ring – its me.

  5. bhai says:

    Speaking about depression in the idiom of the community can go a long way. There is an article in the NYTimes from January on the Americanization of mental illness on this topic. Other communities may have valid and valuable ways of looking at this topic

  6. bhai says:

    Speaking about depression in the idiom of the community can go a long way. There is an article in the NYTimes from January on the Americanization of mental illness on this topic. Other communities may have valid and valuable ways of looking at this topic

  7. Rana says:

    Recently Santokh Singh Dhir died. He was a great writer in Punjabi. In his latter years he suffered from Mental Illness but the taboo of it in our culture caused him much pain. Instead of helping, people just made fun

  8. Rana says:

    Recently Santokh Singh Dhir died. He was a great writer in Punjabi. In his latter years he suffered from Mental Illness but the taboo of it in our culture caused him much pain. Instead of helping, people just made fun

  9. Paramjit Singh says:

    This problem of depression is nothing new among ethnic seniors & I am glad somebody brought it up.These kind of subjects are never brought up in forums like these,or gurdwara enclaves or gatherings.Although there is no easy & right answers,maybe looking at the causes might bring some viable answers.Also there is lot to be said about gaeriatric care among ethnic minorities,I know this for sure coz at my age late fifty's,I am taking care of my paralysed father,who is also suffering from chronic deppression and aftereffects of colorectal surgery.ther are no easy answers believe me.

  10. Paramjit Singh says:

    This problem of depression is nothing new among ethnic seniors & I am glad somebody brought it up.These kind of subjects are never brought up in forums like these,or gurdwara enclaves or gatherings.Although there is no easy & right answers,maybe looking at the causes might bring some viable answers.Also there is lot to be said about gaeriatric care among ethnic minorities,I know this for sure coz at my age late fifty's,I am taking care of my paralysed father,who is also suffering from chronic deppression and aftereffects of colorectal surgery.ther are no easy answers believe me.

  11. Suki says:

    Good article and it's great to bring these subjects out of the darkness and into the light. The seniors they are taking about aren't necessarily ones that have mental disorders but more like depression from loneliness brought on by a sense of loss of the culture they have left behind. Sure people get old (my gran is actually ancient now, over 100 yrs) and she seems ok but then that could be because my parents are there and she gets to see us all the time whereas these seniors are on their own for most parts of the day.
    Mental disorders some of you are talking about are life long issues; I have a couple of friends who's mothers were depressed most of there lives. I know the death of her husband after a move into a new country and having five kids under the age of eight had a lot to do with one but the other I haven't a clue why. All I can say is take your vitamins and keep the serotonin levels up (vit D imp for all Asians and people of colour). Anti-depressant drugs can be hard to get off once on them.

    Easy one is get your thyroid checked. Hypo-thyroidism (sluggish metabolism, etc) can make you depressed and moody; many people go undiagnosed as it can hit you later in life as well.

    I know…been there, done that and realize I was depressed but didn't know why; but stress in my personal life triggered it. Anyhow, am happier, fit (didn't know why after all my workouts I wasn't losing weight) and not depressed.

  12. Suki says:

    Good article and it's great to bring these subjects out of the darkness and into the light. The seniors they are taking about aren't necessarily ones that have mental disorders but more like depression from loneliness brought on by a sense of loss of the culture they have left behind. Sure people get old (my gran is actually ancient now, over 100 yrs) and she seems ok but then that could be because my parents are there and she gets to see us all the time whereas these seniors are on their own for most parts of the day.
    Mental disorders some of you are talking about are life long issues; I have a couple of friends who's mothers were depressed most of there lives. I know the death of her husband after a move into a new country and having five kids under the age of eight had a lot to do with one but the other I haven't a clue why. All I can say is take your vitamins and keep the serotonin levels up (vit D imp for all Asians and people of colour). Anti-depressant drugs can be hard to get off once on them.

    Easy one is get your thyroid checked. Hypo-thyroidism (sluggish metabolism, etc) can make you depressed and moody; many people go undiagnosed as it can hit you later in life as well.

    I know…been there, done that and realize I was depressed but didn't know why; but stress in my personal life triggered it. Anyhow, am happier, fit (didn't know why after all my workouts I wasn't losing weight) and not depressed.