Tip sheet highlights program addressing older adults’ mental health

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in NextAvenue.com, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News, the Connecticut Health I-Team and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

Photo: Togar Sianturi via Flickr

Mental and physical health often go hand in hand, but for many older adults, mental health conditions can be missed or misdiagnosed. Conditions such as depression and anxiety are common and may be indicators of or stem from more serious illnesses, like Parkinson’s or heart disease, as this new tip sheet explains.

Stigma, self-blame, and lack of training among physicians to recognize mental health issues are just some of the reasons that fewer than 3% of older Americans seek help for mental health issues, according to this Health Affairs article. Geropsychologists are trained to deal with the specific needs of older adults, but are in short supply.

As the tip sheet explains, Certified Older Adult Peer Specialists (COAPS) is one approach that can help meet the growing demand for mental and behavioral health services in this population.  It’s a partnership between The Center for Mental Health Policy and Services Research at the University of Pennsylvania,  the Office of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services (OMHSAS) and the Pennsylvania Department of Aging (PDA). The program trains certified peer specialists to work with older adults and address the many issues related to their physical and mental health — from anxiety about normal aging to trauma and substance use.

As reporter Phyllis Hanlon explains in the tip sheet, the effort has resulted in numerous positive outcomes, including lower rates of rehospitalization, improved quality of life, and better overall health. It’s been implemented or is in development in 45 states and the District of Columbia.

This is an opportune time for journalists to report on the specific mental health needs of older adults. In addition to looking at the COAPS initiative, Hanlon’s tip sheet also offers plenty of ideas, experts and resources to get started.

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