BY SHERI TRUSTY
This year’s annual Ottawa County Summit on Aging focused on giving practical tools to professionals and family members who want to help senior citizens protect their mental health and avoid scams and other crimes that target the older population. The recent event at Magruder Hospital, was organized by the Ottawa County Task Force on Aging and hosted by Ottawa County Probate/Juvenile Courts Judge Frederick (Fritz) Hany II.
Hany thanked Task Force members Dianne Martin Mortensen and Pat Gerber for the work they put into the event.
“They are dedicated to our older population,” Hany said. “Statistically, Ottawa County is the oldest county in the state. If that doesn’t speak to why the Task Force was formed, I don’t know what does.”
Among the summit speakers were Melanie White and Valerie Feasel of the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) of Northwest Ohio. They spoke on the stigma surrounding mental health and suicide and how that stigma creates a unique barrier between seniors and the help they need.
One of the most powerful tools for breaking down that stigma is knowledge regarding the prominence of mental health struggles across all age groups.
“One in four people have a diagnosable mental health condition, whether it’s anxiety, depression or something more severe,” White said. “This takes the stigma away. It’s normal to struggle. When we see it’s normal, it’s easier to get help.”
White said that depression in seniors is “generally under diagnosed,” due partly to the stigma. Yet, depression can lead to suicide as seniors face the loss of family and friends, as well as the loss of independence and mobility, illness or decreased financial stability.
“Regarding stigma, we’ve made a lot of progress, but we have a way to go,” Feasel said. “Two million Americans 65 and over have some form of depression.”
Feasel and White talked about suicide resources such as the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. They explained the importance of stepping in when someone is suicidal. Helping the person to understand that someone cares and will help talk them through the crisis can save a life.
“There is hope through positive action. We need to be a community again. We need to care,” White said.