New program comes to aid of SW Missouri seniors

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Help is on the way for those older adults living in isolated, rural areas of southwest Missouri who suffer from various mental health issues that diminish their quality of life.

Through a program funded in part by the Missouri Foundation of Health, Clark Community Mental Health Center will offer an outreach program to provide mental health assessments or educational resources to adults 55 years of age and older.

"There is such a stigma attached to the idea of mental health," said Suzette Huntress, program administrator of Healthy Minds, the program that will soon be administered to seniors at risk. "There are seniors suffering from depression, isolation, drug or alcohol addictions or suffering other forms of mental health issues.

"We are doing this, in part, because as the economy gets worse, we need to let seniors know that there are other avenues to dealing with their problems," she continued. "There are other solutions."

The Healthy Minds program will be presented at senior centers, churches, in group settings and one-on-one through public education.

"We will be hosting a series of 'Lunch and Learns,' allowing seniors to be in a setting in which they are in comfortable and familiar surroundings," Huntress said. "We will provide lunch to those attending."

Huntress said one of the barriers that program administrators have to overcome is the reluctance of seniors to actively participate in the program.

"There is more of a boot-strap mentality among our older citizens than there is with the younger generation," said Frank Compton, CEO of Clark Community Mental Center. "The message is that mental health is the same as physical health. We are so accepting of physical health and ailments. We are not so accepting of the mental health issues that accompany surgery, death of a spouse or other major life issuea."

Clark Center will be working with the Southwest Missouri Office of Aging, area ministerial alliances and other senior-serving agencies to identify gaps in services and specific individuals needing assistance.

"Many seniors are not comfortable with approaching mental health services in a formal setting," Huntress said. "By collaborating with these agencies, we will be able to provide the education, group services and individual conversations in areas that are well known and trusted by seniors, greatly increasing our chance of success."

Clark Center currently has certified staff, including Brad Ridenour and Laura Beatie, to provide "Mental Health First Aid," which trains staff within senior centers and other agencies to idenify risks and characteristics of older adults with mental health issues.

Transportation issues may also affect those in need of mental health outreach programs. The grant provides funding for outreach coordinators to provide transportation.

Services will be sustained through a collaborative effort between the Missouri Department of Mental Health's administrative agent - Clark Community Mental Health Center, the Southwest Missouri Office on Aging and community partners.

For more information about the program, contact Huntress at 476-1033.

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