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For retirees, social networks can be lifesaving

Socializing, like hanging out at the a pool,

Socializing, like hanging out at the a pool, can be good for an older person's health, the experts say. Just as watermelon is a healty snack, having a network of friends is nourishment for the psyche. Credit: Getty Images / iStockphoto/Rawpixel

The headlines in the news, while rarely cheery, have been particularly glum of late. Much more attention is being paid to the rising toll of suicide.

This isn’t even including celebrities who seem to have had it all but were fighting inner demons the world knew nothing about. I live in Utah, which has the fifth highest suicide rate in America. While most attention is being paid to young folks who harm themselves, more senior citizens kill themselves than do young people.

The Washington Post addressed it in a story that included this statistic: “Seniors, many of them depressed, die by suicide at an alarming rate. White men 85 and older are more likely to kill themselves than Americans in any other age group — taking their lives at four times the rate of the general population.”

The lifestyle changes that come with aging are one of the main reasons those 55 and older give up on life. Loneliness is a big factor. Consider this: a job provided interaction with others on a frequent basis. Co-workers didn’t actually have to be friends. Just a greeting or casual conversation was a psychological boost. Often, those associations end with retirement. The schedules and daily routines continue for those still employed there, but those who retire are no longer part of that world. Communication and casual friendships based mainly on working together come to an end.

Few humans can be happy in social isolation. Many seniors who suddenly — or gradually — have little to no social contact feel useless and unwanted. This often is why a lack of friends and/or closeness with nearby family end up resulting in depression. Many experts feel that suicide among those 60 and older is almost always accompanied by depression.

Depression has one thing in common with the flu: It can be defined and recognized by its symptoms. Those include insomnia or waking up before dawn and being unable to get back to sleep; trouble concentrating and retaining information; feeling worthless, useless and helpless; loss of interest in favorite hobbies and activities; constant feelings of sadness; growing thoughts about suicide.

Before depression takes over and rules your life, making it almost impossible to find new friendships, start establishing a social network. An easy way to begin is by volunteering. The work of volunteering, of giving to others, can also boost self-esteem, which is vital to preventing depression and thoughts of suicide.

Also, look for local groups and organizations based on your favorite interests or activities. This can range from discussion groups to wine tastings to fun evenings out for dining or going to a movie, even physical fitness or stargazing parties.

You may have to actually force yourself to seek ways to get involved with others again. But doing so will help provide more satisfaction with being alive, rather than the sad alternative.

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