Introduction to Depression and Learned Helplesness
The 21st century has brought a great number of changes to individuals, families, cultures, and entire societies. These changes have created the need to incorporate new circumstances into the old. Some of these new ideas are now beginning to replace the old in terms of what it means to be a healthy senior, displacing tired assumptions of the inevitable physical and mental decline of the elderly.
There is now a new set of assumptions that include a diversity of physical and emotional experiences in the elderly. Emotional distress is experienced in the form of everyday anxieties in a variety of forms, as well as depression, which may inhibit many aspects of individual functioning. Research over the last several decades has continued to indicate that rather than being strictly a temporary mood state, depression frequently seems to be preceded and maintained by a perspective of learned helplessness (Seligman, 1975, 1998), in which individuals feel that they may have lost control over important aspects of their lives.
Depression and Learned Helplessness in Long-Term Care Facilities
Contemporary research has identified that the concept of learned helplessness in depression applies to all age groups, including the elderly. Research has also identified a higher level of depression in long-term care nursing facilities than in the general population of the elderly. While some of the previous research has indicated that learned helplessness may correlate with depression in restrictive long-term care environments, there has been a dearth of research demonstrating this relationship. In addition, little research on this relationship controls for key extraneous factors that may impact upon these measures, such as the patient’s cognitive ability and duration of stay, and uses measures of depression developed specifically for the elderly.
By Paul Susic Ph.D Licensed Psychologist