Harrisburg, Pennsylvania – The Pennsylvania Departments of Aging and Human Services joined the Pennsylvania Association of Area Agencies on Aging (P4A) in the fifth annual Seniors Mental Health Awareness Day to highlight the service needs of mental health of an often neglected and underserved population: the elderly.
“As Pennsylvania’s older adult population continues to grow and diversify, we need to improve resources and supports to meet the mental health needs of this population, which tends to be more socially isolated than other groups. We know that social isolation has a negative impact on older adults and can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression which can negatively affect their physical and mental health and lead to an increased risk of mortality,” Aging Secretary Robert Torres said “We also need to eliminate any stigma and myth surrounding older people and mental health that may prevent them from seeking help.”
Second. Torres noted that a common myth is that depression is a normal and inevitable part of aging. However, in the face of depression, individuals can often be successfully treated, allowing them to live with a better sense of mental health and well-being. A second mental health myth related to aging is that suicide is only a problem among young people. “Unfortunately, that couldn’t be further from the truth. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates are highest among men 65 and older, a clear indication of unmet mental health needs in the senior community. Sec said. Torres.
Especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has never been more important for Pennsylvania to invest in initiatives that provide support to vulnerable Pennsylvanians. Governor Tom Wolf’s budget proposal calls for a $36.6 million increase in base county mental health funding along with an additional $40 million in one-time federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to support efforts aimed at providing essential behavioral health services.
Additionally, last year, to help fight depression, Pennsylvania became the first state to form and independently administer Healthy IDEAS (Identifying Depression & Empowering Activities for Seniors), a self-management program for evidence-based depression. This program brings together the state’s Aging Network and the mental/behavioral health community to help improve identification of symptoms of depression in older adults and learn how to properly manage depression. The Department of Aging leads this initiative and 14 regional agencies on aging have adopted the program to date.
“The Department of Human Services facilitates access to mental health care for Pennsylvanians covered by Medical Assistance through the Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Our goal is to ensure that services and supports in behavioral health issues recognize and address the unique needs of older adults,” said Acting Secretary Meg Snead. “The past two years have brought difficult times for many, and now more than ever, we must prioritize our commitment to our aging community, so that no one has to go through these feelings alone. Check in on those you love as signs of depression or loneliness may go unnoticed, be aware of the many resources available and help them know that while the world may feel isolated, they are not alone.”
“The Pennsylvania Association of Area Agencies on Aging and its AAA members have long recognized the need for older adults to have easy access to mental health and addictions services,” said Rebecca May-Cole, executive director of P4A. “AAA sees need at all levels and types of service delivery such as assessment, care management, protective services, caregiver support programs, housing, transportation and meal delivery. Barriers to access are many, some very complex, including stigma, denial, lack of information/knowledge, personal financial limitations, regulatory barriers, limited funding, waiting lists and stigma against older adults. The good news is that systems exist to overcome these barriers. We need to work together to create better connections so that older Pennsylvanians can access services.”
“As a country, we recognize that the population is aging due to advances in health care and technology. With this comes the reality that the mental health needs and services available to this population must also evolve,” said Kristen Houser, DHS Assistant Secretary for the Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse (OMHSAS). “Mental health is health care and OMHSAS strives to educate both those who receive services at our facilities as well as health care workers to meet the growing needs for mental health, related disorders substance use and other behavioral needs of the aging population.”
Whether it’s social isolation or mental health issues, seniors need to know that they are not alone. Regional agencies on aging and the following resources and services are available to help you:
- Department of Social Services Mental Health Helpline and Referral Service, Persevere PA:
1-855-284-2494 (TTY: 724-631-5600)
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) Online chat function
- National Line of Suicide Prevention: 1-888-628-9454
- Crisis Text Line: Text PA to 741741
- Crisis Line for Veterans: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) Online chat function
- Disaster Hotline: 1-800-985-5990
- The Trevor Project (LGBTQ) lifeline: 1-866-488-7386 Text “Start” to 678-678 Online chat function
- Trans Helpline: 877-565-8860
- AP link: 1-800-753-8827
Learn about the different programs offered by the Pennsylvania Department of Aging here.
EDITORS: Photos, video and audio of the event will be available on PACast.com.
MEDIA CONTACTS: Jack Eilber, Aging, [email protected]
Brandon Cwalina – [email protected]