September 11, 2013

Seniors' breakfast to focus on mental health

By JEFF MEYERS Pres-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Two of the area’s most respected leaders in health care will provide seniors with information on mental-health services during an upcoming breakfast at the Senior Citizens Center here.

Dr. Richard Frost, a retired physician who was an integral member of the CVPH Health Clinic for decades, and Sherrie Gillette, director of the Clinton County Department of Mental Health Services, will talk about mental-health prevention during the Aging in Place Breakfast on Sept. 19.

“As people get older, there seems to be some problems with identifying mental-health concerns with certain individuals,” said Crystal Carter, executive director for the Clinton County Office for the Aging.

“We sometimes get in the habit of saying, ‘You’ve lost a spouse, you’ve gone through a lot of losses in life, you’ve lost mobility, so maybe you’re depressed. Being depressed is not a normal part of aging. There are things you can do to combat those feelings.”

A major problem both nationally and on the local level is that seniors may be falling through the cracks when it comes to mental-health services.

“One of our concerns here in the county is that we think people may be experiencing depression or anxiety or other kinds of mental-health problems that are not being recognized, and they’re not getting the help they need,” Gillette said.

“They do not have to feel the way they feel,” she added. “We want to get the information out to them that help is available.”

The upcoming discussion will focus on steps seniors can take to alleviate depression and identify resources that are available for help with mental-health concerns.

“For instance, if a person loses the ability to drive, we can talk about what they can do to access public transportation, so they are still getting around to where they need to go,” Carter said.

“We can talk about socializing with other people and not becoming a hermit in their apartment,” she added. “Getting out to the Senior Center, staying self-engaged.”

Office for the Aging serves around 3,000 senior citizens across Clinton County. The office provides information for clients as well as a regular meals schedule, transportation opportunities and exercise classes, to name a few services.

“A lot of our programs are (preventive) programs,” Carter said, “programs designed to reduce the decline (of mobility and independence) in aging. Socializing, nutrition, exercise. All those things help with improved mental health as well as physical health.”

An estimated 15 to 20 percent of the senior population in any given area has some kind of mental-health problem, but as few as 2 percent of those seniors are receiving mental-health services.

“We want people to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression or anxiety disorder,” Gillette said. “If people are experiencing these signs and symptoms, then we want them to know how to access the health care that is available.

“We’re really looking to increase awareness.”

Frost agrees that regular exercise is important in keeping the body healthy as we age, but he also stresses the importance of having an active mind.

“I can’t stress enough the importance of both physical activity and challenging your mind in terms of having a successful aging process,” he said. “It’s important to try new challenges that you haven’t done before.”

Frost has developed a routine for doing crossword puzzles each day, and he also plans on learning to play a musical instrument during retirement.

He emphasizes the need for socialization as well, and will discuss the effects of social isolation.

“If you’re getting older and live alone, that’s an issue in itself, but if you don’t have the ability to drive a car, that can become a big problem in our rural area,” he said.

Social media, including the use of Facebook and Twitter, is often considered an activity of the younger generations, but Frost feels some use of it can benefit seniors as well.

The county’s mental-health leaders are currently assessing the community’s needs to help identify what services are available and which ones continue to be needed, Gillette said.

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IF YOU GO The Aging in Place Breakfast will be held at 9 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 19, at the Senior Citizens Center on North Catherine Street in Plattsburgh and will feature talks by Dr. Richard Frost and Sherrie Gillette. There is a suggested $5 donation. Reservations are required by Thursday, Sept. 12, and can be made by calling 563-6180.