How older Americans can tackle loneliness together

The best thing for our mental health is to talk about it.

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When you spend as much time at home as we all have the last two months, it’s going to have an effect on you.

For kids, it’s the impact of not being in school with their friends.  For adults, it’s about either finding a job or keeping one.  But for a lot of older adults, it can be the lack of change that has the biggest effect.

“Well with the Coronavirus right now, a lot of folks, especially if their spouse is passed and they live alone, they were were lonely to begin with,” says Mike Willis, Community Outreach Coordinator with Girard Medical Center Behavioral Health.

“They may not have been taking care of themselves already as well as they could be to begin with. When you add a pandemic on top of it, and you can’t get out as much or transportation’s an issue and you’re not able to socialize, it may take lonely feelings and turn them into situational depression, or even a chemical depression.”

In 2018, more than one-quarter of adults over the age of 65 reported living alone.  Roughly 22 percent said they get nervous, anxious, or worry on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.

“The feelings that are challenging for us to deal with as common everyday human beings become accentuated, like your fears may get expanded and you may become a little paranoid. You know you may hear those house settling noises and misinterpret or over interpret those things thinking somebody’s out there trying to break in and when you’re alone and you are that age you’re not exactly able to defend yourself, or you don’t have a game plan in place and so anxiety can turn into some paranoia. So that can be a long lasting impact. ”

So instead of just sitting here and telling you about it, lets take action.  If you’re in your golden years and feeling down, what should you do?

“Reach out. Ask for help,” says Willis. “Challenge your own thinking that it’s not okay or that you’re a burden. That’s a negative thought that’ll keep you stuck. It’s better to risk reaching out and connect with people on an emotional level, as well as asking for help. Maybe you can even help each other in some ways and develop and feel a sense of purpose.  

And if you’re on the younger side and wondering what you can do to help, remember this.

“Connection is so important. Everybody who has older people in their lives – parents, grandparents – don’t wait for them to reach out to you. Go do something with your neighbor or your friends or your family that are older. Because most of the time, they’re not going to initiate.”

And as you’re watching this right now, please know that you are not alone.  Remember that whether it’s every time you turn on the tv, every time you drink your morning coffee, or every time you brush your teeth at night, remember that we’re all going through this together.

Mental Health Links

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255