updated 2 Jul 2011, 06:23
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Sat, Jul 02, 2011
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Kids away, time for you to play

FOR many parents, it is difficult to see their children leave home to study or work abroad or get married and move away. And there are some who feel a great loss in their lives.

This transition can lead to loneliness, depression or sadness, which is commonly known as Empty Nest Syndrome (ENS).

Two elderly couples in India who committed suicide recently are believed to have suffered from ENS.

It is believed that the two elderly couples - one in Ahmedabad and another in New Delhi - killed themselves because of loneliness and depression.

Dattatray Giri, 85, a former college principal, and his wife Bhavna, 82 of Jivraj Park, Ahmedabad, set themselves on fire and left a note citing loneliness as the reason.

So, how serious is ENS and is it happening in Malaysia?

Last month, Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil urged children to make more time for their parents after a report from the Malaysian Population and Family Study revealed that 41 per cent of people aged 60 and above felt lonely after their children left home.

According to Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia's Health Psychology Unit Associate Professor Dr Alvin Ng Lai Oon, ENS was not a mental disorder.

"It is more of a condition where parents of children who have grown up and left, feel empty, lonely and depressed.

"This is mainly due to their grief of 'losing' their children," he said.

So, how does one know if they are suffering from ENS since it is not a diagnosable disorder or syndrome?

Dr Ng said given its definition, it was basically feelings of grief, loneliness and depression stemming from the absence of their adult children.

"Behaviourally, there are tendencies to insist on playing out parental roles such as reminding, pampering and providing for their children even when their grown-up children are capable of being independent.

"At times, when the grown-up children reject these roles that parents play, ENS can worsen. The feelings of helplessness due to the loss of parental roles, and the loss of the company of their children become a double grief that contributes to depression."

He added that if depression came with role erosion and loneliness caused by children leaving home, it was likely to be ENS.

Dr Ng said ENS was more common among women - mainly because of their multiple roles in their children's lives.

"Mothers find it harder to let go of their children."

Dr Ng said since ENS was not a diagnosable disorder, it was difficult to determine the number of parents suffering from ENS.

"There are no Malaysian scale or inventory with measurable criteria to determine couples who have ENS, so, I can't say if ENS is apparent in Malaysia based on any research findings.

"However, I am sure many families go through it, especially when the Asian culture values families being close-knit, and parents within the Asian community tend to play their role as parents longer than their Western counterparts."

How does one deal with ENS?

"Parents can take the opportunity to explore the things they have always wanted to do but could not when the children were growing up.

"It is also a good time to rekindle their relationship and build that companionship with each other so as to reduce ENS as well as working towards mutual health and happiness."

Help University College vice-president and psychologist Dr Goh Chee Leong said many parents found the transition of their children leaving home challenging and the level of emptiness depends a lot on how parents adapted to the situation.

"Many parents devote their entire lives to their children, and when it is time for their children to leave home, they find it very difficult to adapt."

He advised parents to lead a balanced life in order to avoid plunging into depression.

"The key is a balanced life and also try to find some meaningful ways, such as hobbies, community work or personal development, to deal with the feelings of emptiness."

Dr Goh advised parents whose children have yet to leave the family homes to have a varied life.

"It is important to have other things going on in their lives besides just their kids in order to have a more balanced life."

Malaysian Mental Health Association president Datin Dr Ang Kim Teng said parents in this predicament should develop other interests to avoid feeling the emptiness.

"As a parent, I feel that some parents tend to revolve their lives solely around their children.

"This could cause the feeling of loneliness when their children leave home."

She added that parents should prepare for this stage in the same way they prepare for retirement: develop something for themselves by widening their social circuit or learning something new as there are a lot of opportunities out there. -New Straits Times

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