A Willow Case Study:
Overcoming Loneliness in Later-Life Depression
by Dr. Lisa Campbell
At 80, Agnes* was struggling with depression for the first time. She could handle the moments when she felt "blue" or "down." She could understand that moving into her new apartment was a change, and that change could be stressful. She could even accept that she was forgetting more things, more often, than usual.
But what she could not stand, just could not get used to, was the loneliness. She thought she'd been through the worst after her husband died, but this was different. Her daughter lived only 10 minutes away, her new neighbors seemed nice enough, but still she felt so completely alone. And the more she told herself how fortunate she was, how grateful she should be for her family and her health, how others had it much worse, ... the more deeply lonely she felt.
It turns out Agnes was struggling with clinical depression, which works like a thief for many people. It steals away your ability to take comfort from the people who love you, to really hold on to their love and keep it warm inside you. It steals away your connections, isolating you from your loved ones, from your neighbors, even from your God. It steals away your identity, your sense of self, making you feel different from other people. "Nobody else could possibly feel so sad/lonely/empty." And so ashamed of your differentness that it's hard to be with other people and imagine that they might want to be with you.
Agnes arrived at Willow like many people before her -- upon the recommendation of her physician, and with her daughter's research on the internet. She felt unsure that anyone, or anything, could help her feel like herself again. It took a few weeks to get comfortable with her therapist, but soon she found that she could talk about her life freely, even her deepest fears and concerns, things she'd never really had the opportunity to share and explore out loud. She looked forward to her weekly sessions (and was relieved to learn that Medicare really did cover the cost).
She'd never really considered before what she needed to be happy, and how there were little things she could do to practice listening to her emotions, connecting with her body, and reaching out to people around her. She learned things too -- like that it mattered what she ate and how much sleep she got, and that depression and dementia are not normal parts of getting older.
Agnes took small steps toward healing, and within a few months she was feeling better than she'd felt in years. She felt more energy and confidence, was really enjoying her time with her daughter and with her neighbors, and had returned to her friends at church, as well as her faith. Her depression was lifting, and a few months later, she decided with her therapist that she was doing well enough to cut back the frequency of her sessions, giving her time to practice her renewed relationship and self-care skills.
* Agnes is not a real person; her story is a compilation of stories of many of our clients. We honor our clients' confidentiality and privacy in all ways.