May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and after a difficult year-and-a-half there has never been a better time than now to discuss the mental health of older Door County residents and the services Door County Medical Center offers for improving their mental health.
In a normal year, about 20% of the adult population of the United States is diagnosed with a mental illness—around 47 million people according to data collected in 2017 by the National Institute of Mental Health. In a normal year, the fear of dying or becoming severely ill, losing a loved one, losing income, social isolation, and significant changes in daily routines are all circumstances that—on their own—would be expected to cause anxiety, sadness, grief and stress in most people.
However, 2020 and 2021 have not been “normal” years, and as the coronavirus pandemic unfolded, those normally unique situations happened all at once, and not surprisingly, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported the average share of American adults experiencing symptoms of anxiety disorder and/or depressive disorder has risen from 11% in January 2019 to 41% in January 2021.
One group, in particular, that has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic has been older adults. Indeed, according to an August 2020 poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 25% adults ages 65 and older reported experiencing increased levels of anxiety and depression during the past year—an increase of 14% as compared to a similar 2018 poll.
A challenging year for older Americans
There are many positive aspects to aging. In particular, retirement can bring more time with family and friends, the freedom to pursue long-delayed interests, and a long view of the world that only experience can bring. However, our older years can also bring difficult life transitions—losing close friends and family becomes more common as we age, as does social isolation and the stress of age-related health concerns.
Throughout 2020 and 2021 many of the negative circumstances listed above hit older communities particularly hard. Lockdowns forced retirees and entire retirement communities across the country to quarantine indefinitely, increasing the risk of social isolation. As the demographic most at risk of developing severe COVID-19—and accounting for 80% of all COVID-related deaths—older Americans had to both grapple with the fear of death or serious illness on a daily basis, and with the increased likelihood that they could lose a loved one—possibly their spouse—to the coronavirus.
After a year like that, the 14% rise in reported levels of anxiety and depression among older adults may not seem surprising.
DCMC Senior Life Solutions
In November of 2020, Door County Medical Center teamed up with Senior Life Solutions to address the emotional and behavioral health of older adults in our community.
Senior Life Solutions is an intensive outpatient group therapy program designed to meet the unique needs of adults—typically 65 years of age and older—struggling with symptoms of depression and anxiety often related to aging.
How does the Senior Life Solutions Program work?
Joining the Senior Life Solutions program often begins with a referral from a physician, family member or friend—or even a self-referral—which is followed by an individual assessment. After the assessment, patients meet in a supportive, encouraging group setting up to three times a week, and individually, once a month, with psychiatrist Nina Jordania.
“Typically, between 7-10 of our members receive group therapy to help work towards a better quality of life, mental health, and wellbeing,” says Senior Life Solutions Program Director Shannon Kanter. She adds, “Group members help each other by sharing personal experiences, as well as their strengths, which can boost self-esteem and confidence. By interacting with other members and receiving feedback from the group and the therapist, each member of the group gains a greater understanding of him or herself and has the opportunity to create relationships with other people who may be facing similar challenges.”
Perhaps one of the most important goals is for patients, in both group and individual sessions, to learn and develop the tools and coping strategies that will help them enjoy an improved quality of life. “During group therapy, the group may engage in open conversation guided by the therapist, which allows the group to support each other and share common experiences,” says Kanter. “Often in group therapy,” she continues, “participants learn new skills to support their mental health wellness for the remainder of their lives.”
Working with your physician and hospital staff
The program staff includes a board-certified psychiatrist (Dr. Jordania) licensed clinical social workers, a registered nurse, and other professionals dedicated to the emotional wellbeing of the seniors in our community.
“Because Senior Life Solutions is a service line offered by the hospital,” Kanter explains, “we work closely with the rest of the staff in a number of ways. In our program continuity of care is very important so we work alongside our patients’ Primary Care Physician and other clinicians involved in their care to ensure the patient is getting the help they need.”
Teletherapy during the pandemic
Throughout the pandemic DCMC Senior Life Solutions has offered a teletherapy option to our patients—providing emotional support from the comfort of their own homes. In the group therapy room, a flat-screen TV allows for patients participating through teletherapy to see the therapist and group members attending in person, and vice versa.
“It really does feel as if we are all in the same room together and allows those not yet comfortable attending group therapy in person to still get the benefits group therapy provides,” Kanter says, adding “We are currently holding a hybrid model, so we have some patients joining us virtually through their phone or computer, and some that join us in person. When patients join us in person, we are still following Covid-19 guidelines of social distancing and wearing our masks.”
If you or someone you know has recently experienced any of the following, the DCMC Senior Life Solutions program might be right for you:
- Recently experienced a traumatic event
- Lost a spouse or close family member
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Changes in appetite
- Difficulty sleeping or changes in sleep patterns
- Loss of energy
- Feelings of sadness or grief lasting more than two weeks
- Feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness
For more information about DCMC Senior Life Solutions, please call: (920) 746-3778 or click here.