Written by Ron Sterling, M.D. and Published in Northwest Prime Time Magazine
Your conclusion that Don is depressed is probably correct. We now understand that one of the primary causes of irritability and oversensitivity is depression. Don's symptoms of irritability, loss of weight and a sleeping problem strongly indicate a depression that has biological connections. The fact his more hostile behavior began after retirement and the loss of his father also point toward depression being the likely cause of his irritability.
Cranky people don't often get a lot of sympathy. Not only do they make us angry with their behavior, but we often think that people are mean because they are mean people, not just because they are having a bad biology day or a bad biology life. We would like to think that angry people should be able to learn how to control their feelings and behavior, but it is not necessarily just a willpower, discipline, or relaxation problem. In Don's case, it is not likely a personality problem simply because it started so late in his life.
Crankiness that is one of the symptoms of a depression that has biological roots cannot generally be fixed by behavior modification or therapy alone. There is no excuse for hurting people through mean or hostile words and behavior. It is Don's responsibility to do something about it. The question is what can he do? Part of the solution will likely be a good antidepressant medication.
I think that folks who display hostility as part of their depression are the most difficult to encourage to see their doctor or a mental health professional. Let me make this clear, such symptoms and behavior in Don's situation are not just part of growing old. Maybe he wants to be independent and solve these problems himself, or maybe he feels he doesn't have a problem. Maybe his doctor has not heard the news about irritability being a common symptom of depression and hasn't brought it to Don's attention. In any case, now you know, now Don can know, and hopefully, he can get the help he needs. Best wishes -- Dr. Ron.
Ron Sterling, M.D. is a 64 year-old General and Geriatric Psychiatrist with a private practice in Seattle. He invites you to e-mail him at with any questions about mental wellness or emotional, relationship, or aging concerns. He is the only person who reads e-mail sent to Dr. Ron. Please be assured that your questions and identities are completely confidential and protected. For more information about Dr. Ron and for resources related to senior mental health, please go to SeniorMentalHealth.org. Read our Disclaimer.
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RON STERLING, M.D.
General Psychiatry with Specialization in Adult Attention Deficit Disorder
Updated October 7, 2007
Copyright 2000-2007. Ron Sterling, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
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