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Mental health care for seniors in New York City

“The reality is that many older adults have already survived the trauma, and these experiences bring so much wisdom, perspective and resilience to share as a result. Investments to increase access to mental health support for the elderly would go really good”.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It is an ideal time to raise awareness about mental health, destigmatize the issue, and understand the challenges, needs, and ways to support these important services.

Over the past two years, it has been promising to see awareness and care as communities have begun to focus on the impacts of the pandemic on the mental health of children and adolescents, and of adults and families take care. But there is another vulnerable population that is often left out of the conversation about care: older adults.

As director of The Center for Resilience and Wellness at Greenwich House, I have seen first-hand the rising rates of anxiety, depression and re-trauma among our older clients who have been amplified by the pandemic. According to a January 2022 report by The Commonwealth Fund, older adults in the United States are much more likely to report being diagnosed with mental health and having trouble getting the care they need than older adults in other 10 high-income countries.

Challenges are complex and often interconnected. There was the isolation of the pandemic, along with the loss of rituals around mourning, such as hospital visits and funerals. More time alone meant more opportunity to ruminate and relive past traumas. Older adults lost face-to-face communities at senior centers, which are especially important in New York City, where many seniors have no family nearby.

The shift to telehealth for mental health and psychiatry needs, an emerging approach before the pandemic, proved to be a real lifesaver during VOCID. But the same tool that is easily used by many age groups was inaccessible to too many seniors. Lack of comfort with technology, physical limitations such as hearing and vision loss, and limited access to reliable and affordable Internet have often made access very difficult.

The rise of anti-Asian and anti-Semitic violence has created great fear, and while the Black Lives Matter and MeToo movements brought crucial social conversations to the fore, for some they also amplified the pain of historical trauma.

The favorable lining, as we hope to adjust the course and help this group, is that older adults have great built-in resistance. The reality is that many older adults have already survived the trauma, and these experiences bring so much wisdom, perspective, and resilience to share as a result. Investments to increase access to mental health support for the elderly would go a long way.

Here’s how we can make the situation even better:

The city should expand funding for older adult centers and home health care services, which provide face-to-face stabilization to the community and expand the aging capacity of older people in their place. The Mayor’s Office of Community Mental Health should continue its work to develop mental health and training programs for providers that reflect the populations served in culturally sensitive, evidence-based and trauma-informed practices. Training in cultural skills will improve service delivery and outreach to communities of color and seniors who identify as LBGTQ +, who may have less access to quality mental health care. As we continue to learn more about the impacts of VOCID on mental health, we need providers. which are trained in a number of methodologies, such as desensitization and reprocessing of eye movement, somatic therapy, and cognitive processing therapy, to help address the full spectrum of needs of older adults. a means to access medical and mental health care. Financial barriers to mental health care are a huge challenge for many New Yorkers, but especially for the elderly, who are more likely to live on a fixed income. Connecting older adults with insurance and other benefits for which they meet the requirements would have a big impact.

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