Seeking Treatment for Empty Nest Related Depression
Empty nest syndrome occurs when parents feel sad, depressed, and without purpose after children leave the home. This important life transition may feel like a major loss and trigger symptoms of grief. Getting through a life change can present challenges, and it can even trigger major depression. Parents who can’t seem to overcome the sadness of an empty nest and who experience significant impairment because of it, should seek help and professional treatment for depression.
Facing an empty nest can be bittersweet. Your children have achieved the independence you worked to instill in them, but now you have lost that purpose. Your home is empty, and you may have no one to care for any longer.
This can trigger some pretty negative feelings in parents, even depression. If your moods are consistently low during this time, and if you can’t seem to shake feeling sad even weeks after your child has left, you may have developed major depression. Treatment is effective and can help you regain your life, so reach out and get the professional support you need.
What Is Empty Nest Syndrome?
Empty nest syndrome is not a diagnosable condition, but it is a real situation that many parents face. The overwhelming feelings that some parents—mostly mothers—experience when their children leave home are sadness and loss. It is a little bit like grief, feeling this loss of the children that were such a huge focus of your life and purpose. Letting go is difficult and painful, and for some parents this difficult time can lead to actual depression.
Important Signs of Real Depression
Feeling a little blue, or even moderately depressed over having your children fly the nest is normal. It’s a transition to a different lifestyle, and it is only natural that you may feel sad, without purpose, or as if you are grieving a loss. These feelings should lessen and you should feel better within a few weeks.
They may not lessen, though, and may even get worse. This type of sadness associated with an empty nest can also turn into a serious case of major depressive disorder. Know the signs that are used to diagnose major depression. If you are experiencing any of these regularly, most days and for a couple of weeks or more, it’s important to reach out for a diagnosis and treatment:
- A depressed mood, which can include feeling sad, hopeless, guilty, ashamed, and generally down
- Loss of interest in normal, previously enjoyable activities
- Changes in appetite and weight, either eating more and gaining weight or eating less and losing weight
- Insomnia or sleeping more than normal
- Agitation or slowed down movements
- Feeling worthless
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or focusing on and completing tasks
- Thoughts of death or suicide, suicidal behaviors
While feeling down about an empty nest is normal, becoming depressed is not. It is not a typical response to this life change. Treatment can help you feel better and overcome this very real mental illness.
Get Treatment for Depression
If you are struggling with an empty home, you can benefit from treatment. Whether or not you are diagnosed officially with depression, professional support can help. Depression is a treatable condition through the use of medication and therapy, as well as healthy lifestyle changes.
Start with your trusted doctor if you are not sure how to find help for empty nest depression. He or she can guide you to find a good mental healthcare provider. Depending on the severity of your symptoms and the impact it has on your functioning, you may benefit from regular therapy sessions or need more intensive care in a residential setting.
The benefits of residential, or inpatient, treatment include being able to focus completely on you and your treatment and wellness without distractions. You devoted years of your life to your children, and now it is important to focus on your own needs and mental health. A stay in a residential facility can help you learn how to manage depression, how to live a great life in an empty nest, and can invigorate your joy in living for yourself.
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How Depression Is Treated
If you seek professional treatment for depression, you can expect to benefit from both medical care and therapy. Depression symptoms can be effectively managed with antidepressant drugs, like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. It is important to know, however, that these drugs take weeks to begin working. This is another good reason to seek treatment in a residential facility. It will give you the time and safe environment in which to find the best antidepressant for you.
In addition to medical care, depression is treated with therapy. Behavioral therapies can be particularly useful in giving you practical strategies for changing negative thoughts, behaviors, and moods that hold you back from enjoying an empty-nest life. Therapists can help you adjust to this big life change, improve relationships, learn healthy ways to cope with sadness and stress, and set and achieve goals.
A therapist will also help you make positive lifestyle changes that support depression management. These include finding new, enjoyable activities and hobbies, learning to recognize and respond better to triggers, avoiding alcohol, and taking care of your physical health.
Focus on the Positives of an Empty Nest
Research on empty nesters shows that many adults with grown children focus on the positive changes this transition brings. They are experiencing the benefits of an empty nest, in spite of missing their children. If you are struggling with loss at this time, it could help to focus on the positive changes this can bring.
For instance, many parents report that they have better relationships with their children after they leave home. Empty nesters are also focusing more on developing other relationships: with their partners, with their friends, and with family members like siblings. They also feel a greater sense of freedom and find they now have the time to pursue interests and hobbies that bring them pleasure.
Along with treatment if you need it, try to focus on the positive things this life change can bring. Find hobbies to fill your time, get part-time work, and spend more time with your partner and with friends. It can also help to begin nurturing a new relationship with your grown children. Spend time with them like you would with friends, meeting for coffee or going to the movies together.
Having an empty nest can be a contradiction: full of new opportunities and also sad and a big loss. If you have been focusing too much on the latter and are struggling to get over these negative feelings and moods, it may be time to seek treatment for depression. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone you trust for support and to then get professional care and treatment.
Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with mental health disorders as well as co-occurring substance use disorders. Contact us to learn more about our renowned Los Angeles and San Diego-based programs and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.