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Opening up the conversation on aging and mental health

Major transition periods like retirement and empty nesting can also cause mental stress.

SEATTLE — When talking about mental health, most people assume the conversation involves young people. However, as people get older there are many age-related stresses that can negatively impact mental health as well. 

For example, people are more likely to know someone who has died or experienced another major life trauma. Social Worker Katherine Walter also explained it can also be a time of adjustment: to retirement, to an empty nest or to a loss of someone special, including a pet. 

It can also include grief about not having done certain things in life, or missed opportunities. 

"Once the busyness of middle age is in the review mirror, a little bit. There's this opportunity for reinvention, exploring 'what do I really want' both in terms of my life purpose, my gender and sexuality, a career change. There's just a lot of possibility." 

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Walter also explained that the way a person tells their story can influence what kinds of opportunities they pursue. "If your'e somebody who sees your path narrowing, and a narrowing, and a narrowing, you're less likely to think you could embark on a new adventure because it seems futile." 

However, if a person sees an empty nest situation as a new opportunity to use their time in other ways, Walter said that they can blossom into this new stage of life. 

Life changes like losing a spouse or health issues are also a part of the aging process. "I think that the ability to notice whats happening and be very honest about that is happening is really the first step," Walter said. 

A person may require more help as they get older, but Walter explained that its not a bad thing. "It's possible to age well even if you need a little extra help, even if you're learning how to gracefully accept help later in life," Walter said. "You don't have to be on the front lines to still be powerful and valuable." 

She explained that although the majority of a person's life may be behind them, there is still opportunity for growth near the end of their life. 

"This isn't sailing off into the sunset; there's still quite a lot of life available." 

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