Bridging Gaps in Mental Health Support for Older Adults

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Mental health is a growing crisis, not just in Indiana, but across the country. One in 20 adults experience serious mental illness each year. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us grappled with loneliness and social isolation. In the wake of those lonely years of lockdowns, many of our aging community members continue to battle the enduring effects of social isolation and struggle with other mental illnesses. Without robust support, their wellbeing and independence are in jeopardy.

In this blog post, I’ll explore the work being done to ensure aging in place for older adults with mental illness, the crucial role of social care, and the partnerships forged to integrate mental health and social care seamlessly.

Making mental health a priority

Last month, CICOA hosted its 3rd annual Faith Summit, and the topic that drew in over 150 participants was “Addressing Mental Health in Older Adults.” I met with faith community leaders, healthcare professionals and mental health practitioners who see firsthand the daily struggles of our older community members and are dedicated to supporting them and improving their quality of life.

After an enlightening keynote on “Faith and Feelings” from Dr. Danielle Henderson, I saw dedicated community leaders go to work in small groups to discuss real ways to include and support community members who are dealing with anxiety, depression, grief, loneliness and isolation, substance use disorder, caregiving, overcoming stigma, and more.

The stigma someone may face when they have a mental illness can make them feel more isolated, but they need more intervention and more engagement. The Faith Summit serves as a testament to our collective commitment to break the chains of stigma and propel mental health to the forefront of community priorities.

Taking action to support aging in place for older adults with mental illness

Earlier this year, CICOA started work to support aging in place for older adults with mental illness, thanks to a $1.5 million grant from the Family and Social Services Administration, Division of Mental Health & Addiction.

Severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and more, creates challenges for aging and can threaten a person’s ability to age in place. This grant is about not allowing a mental health diagnosis or severe mental illness to jeopardize the independence of our older adults.

And let’s not forget loneliness and social isolation. We’ve seen a significant amount of loneliness and depression in individuals age 50 and above since COVID, and that’s not going to come down unless we do something about it.

When we think about the circles of support needed, there are clinical interventions – treatment plans, medication regimens, scheduling and attending regular appointments, and so on. Those interventions really do help, and a social care organization like CICOA comes into play with social determinants of health needs – transportation to that clinic, having a nutritious and balanced diet, caregiver support and case management. Community health workers, or neighborhood liaisons as I sometimes call them, are there to bridge the gap between healthcare and social services and connect individuals with the services that can help extend independent living at home.

Bringing mental health care and social care together

Since July, we’ve been working on forging and cultivating relationships with several mental health partners that operate in that space. By building these partnerships, we replace the silos that have existed in mental health care with wraparound support for a person’s needs.

  • Dr. Randal Horton of Epiphany Behavioral Services has helped us develop assessments to identify clients’ needs and coordinate enhanced care with a mental health professional.
  • We’re talking with Sandra Eskenazi Mental Health Center and Community Health Network Mental/Behavioral Health about connecting clients to their services to access mental health care.
  • Dr. Malaz Boustani has led our staff through agile implementation training to develop innovative, sustainable and scalable interventions. With his help, we’re setting up the processes and tools to successfully continue providing support to older adults with serious mental illnesses.

We’ve also been growing our staffing needs with behavioral health clinicians and community health workers to complement the work of these clinical partners.

As we move into Phase II, we’re going to begin working with individuals we’ve identified with severe mental illness. CICOA currently serves 3,451 individuals with a behavioral health diagnosis.

Understanding what works and leads to improvements is of utmost importance as we make steps toward developing effective interventions. So, we’ll conduct surveys to collect baseline data and continue to track these interactions with social care workers and mental health professionals.

Our goal is to see improvements in conditions, treatment plans being followed, and overall, that these older adults feel that their quality and quantity of life has been enhanced.

Advocacy and funding is needed to address mental health

We at CICOA know that this mental health challenge is only rising, and it impacts older adults’ ability to age in place and live independently. This grant provides programming for two years, so we’re being mindful about creating innovative solutions that help seniors not only today but also in 2025 and beyond. Our goal is to have funding to continue this work as long as it is needed.

We expect that this challenge is only going to scale up as the number of older adults will more than double over the next few decades, coupled with the rising numbers of adults living with mental illness or feeling isolated.

The State of Indiana put $100 million toward mental health in the most recent legislative session. We’re grateful to our General Assembly for making such a bold move, and we hope that this remains an item that they continue to increase resources for.

I encourage you to connect with your elected officials on the local, state and federal levels to get more involved and amplify your voices for additional funding to be put towards mental health and addiction recovery services.

With the collective work and support of our community, we can shape a future where mental health is not just prioritized but intricately woven into the fabric of compassionate care for our older community members.

CICOA President and CEO Tauhric Brown
Tauhric Brown

As President and CEO, Tauhric Brown uses his strategic vision and experience in the elderly and disability service industry to expand CICOA services and collaborative partnerships to better meet the needs of the vulnerable populations we serve. Before joining CICOA, Brown served as the chief operating officer for Senior Services, Inc. in Kalamazoo, Mich. His career started in the U.S. Army, and then he became a successful owner/operator for a multi-carrier wireless retail company. Inspired by his family and upbringing, he made the switch to the nonprofit world to fulfill his dream of improving the lives of others.

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