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If you are caring for or living with a loved one who experiences anxiety or is going through depression, understanding what that loved one is going through is crucial in helping them manage their anxiety or depression better.

Dr Victor Kwok, Senior Consultant and Head, Department of Psychiatry at Sengkang General Hospital (SKH), a member of the SingHealth group, shares a case about how a patient who has depression, caused his wife “mental torment” every time he loses his temper.

For this case, externalising the condition as a separate entity was useful, explained Dr Kwok. This meant telling her that it was (her husband's) depression that was causing her grief, and not her husband. This made it easier for her to accept her husband's irritability.

“It’s important to recognise that depression and anxiety disorders are not “personality” or “attitude” problems. So it is difficult for the person with the condition to ‘snap out of it’, and they may also be feeling bad about the way they are behaving, so show them some kindness,” Dr Kwok adds.

How to support loved ones with anxiety or depression   

Be empathetic. Listen and imagine yourself in the other’s shoes, and don’t rush to offer any solutions.
Ask how they would like to be supported. By doing so, you’ll know how to offer help, but be mindful not to overstep boundaries.
Do activities together. Play board games, take part in gardening, cooking, watching TV, walks, and other activities that can re-energise and promote happiness.
Give love and positive encouragement. Express what you value about them, encourage their efforts, give compliments, and show affection.
Look after yourself too. Caregivers should also look after themselves by taking a break or engaging in hobbies.

How to nurture a positive environment for a child

  • Have a schedule. Children should have a balance of both structured parent-led activities and self-directed exploration (free play).
  • Respect your children. Allow them to make certain choices such as which cartoon to watch or shoes to wear.
  • Be patient with your spouse. When misunderstandings happen, handle the situation calmly with your spouse, especially when in front of your kids.
  • Make time. Spend time as a family by engaging in fun activities together.

How to nurture a positive environment for a senior

  • Encourage physical and social activities. Picking up a new skill like baking can keep their minds active and contribute to positive mental health.
  • Ease them into changes. Avoid overwhelming them with change. Identify changes that are easier to achieve and start on those first.   
  • Motivate them to try new things. Joy derived from the novelty of such experiences — and overcoming new challenges — may increase their confidence.

How COVID-19 adds additional stress for seniors

For the elderly, having a solid daily routine is integral to their overall physical, social and psychological well-being, and the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted that.

Dr Tan Shian Ming, Senior Consultant, and Dr Seow Su Yin, Associate Consultant at SKH’s Department of Psychiatry help us understand the emotional stress that seniors experience.

What are the top reasons for emotional stress and depressed moods in seniors?

Loneliness is the top concern. But also during challenging times (such as during the COVID-19 pandemic), they also have fears for their health, concerns about financial status, and disruption of routines.

What would happen if their mental well-being is not addressed right away?

It can lead to negative consequences psychologically, physically and socially. Prolonged social isolation and loneliness increase the risk of depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, suicide and cognitive impairment.

Can the stress seniors experience manifest in other forms?

They (the elderly) have higher risk of generating physical symptoms in response to stress and this can manifest as headaches, insomnia, chest discomfort, palpitation, breathlessness, abdominal bloatedness and pain.

Research also shows that chronic loneliness is associated with a greater risk of heart disease, obesity, recurrent strokes and high blood pressure.

As a caregiver, how can I help an elderly loved one cope?

Recognise the problems early and intervene. We (physicians) need to treat the existing or surfacing psychiatric disorders not just with medicines but also with psychotherapy.

This article was adapted from Skoop magazine (issue 7).

Ref: L20

See page 1 for when to seek help for anxiety and depression.

See the next page for treatment of anxiety and depression.

Check out other articles on mental health:

Mental Health Tips for Using Social Media

Depression or Sadness: How to Tell the Difference

8 Ways to Beat Stress at Work

10 Tips for Mental Wellness

20 Stress-Busting Tips from Psychiatrists

How to Better Manage Emotions at Work

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