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New York State Office for the Aging, Office of Mental Health mark National Older Adult Mental Health Awareness Day

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Mon, May 20th 2019 08:25 pm

Behavioral health identification and treatment priority of state prevention agenda

By the NYS Office for the Aging

The New York State Office for the Aging and the New York State Office of Mental Health on Monday marked National Older Adult Mental Health Awareness Day by urging older adults, caregivers and health care providers to understand the signs and symptoms of behavioral health issues, and to screen, identify and assist older New Yorkers in accessing needed services and supports.

“Older New Yorkers often suffer in silence with undiagnosed and untreated behavioral health issues,” said New York State Office for the Aging Acting Director Greg Olsen. “Everyone should have the opportunity to receive treatment to improve their quality of life. The work we’re doing with state agencies and other partners on the Interagency Geriatric Mental Health and Chemical Dependence Planning Council will continue to raise awareness and link older New Yorkers to the services they need and deserve. I thank Gov. Cuomo for his leadership in fostering an environment where agencies and systems work more closely together to provide services that improve the lives of countless older adults and their families.”

“Supporting the mental wellness of the older adult population can be an area that’s overlooked as an individual ages,” said New York State Office of Mental Health Commissioner Dr. Ann Sullivan. “We remind providers and caregivers that both mental and physical health contribute to an individual’s overall wellness, no matter what the age, and urge them to learn signs and symptoms and to access available supports in their area.”

Anyone, regardless of age or ability, can experience a behavioral health condition such as depression, anxiety, substance use disorder, or suicidal thoughts. Behavioral health problems are not a normal part of aging or of living with a disability. Older people and people with disabilities are less likely to receive mental health treatment, and co-occurring physical and mental health disorders have a significant impact on an individual’s quality of life, independence, and mortality, as well as a tremendous impact on health care spending.

Knowing the signs of behavioral health issues and available resources can lead to faster diagnosis and treatment and help prevent social isolation, increased disability, and other complications. Addressing behavioral, physical and social needs more holistically is an important part of the state’s prevention agenda, Health Across All Policies approach, and healthy aging.

The U.S. Census Bureau indicates there will be nearly 75 million Americans over age 65 by 2030, and it is estimated 20% of older adults have mental health or substance use disorders. With 4.3 million people over the age of 60, that means 860,000 older New Yorkers are currently struggling with these issues.

Although they comprise only 15.2% of the U.S. population, older adults accounted for 18.2% of suicide deaths in 2016. Men 75 and older have suicide rates nearly double of any other age group.

One important way the state is addressing behavioral health issues among older New Yorkers is through the Interagency Geriatric Mental Health and Chemical Dependence Planning Council, which was formed through the Geriatric Mental Health Act of 2005. The act also established a geriatric service demonstration program to test new models of care in areas such as community integration, improved quality of treatment in the community, integration of services, workforce development, family support, finance, specialized populations, information clearinghouse, and staff training. In acknowledging the importance of aging in place, the law was more recently amended in October to foster and support collaboration between licensed or certified providers of home care services and mental health providers for the integration of health and mental health care as part of the geriatric service demonstration program.

The council is co-chaired by the Office Mental Health, Office for the Aging, Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, and the Division of Veterans’ Services, and includes representatives from state agencies, as well as appointees from the governor’s office and the Legislature.

OASAS Commissioner Arlene González-Sánchez said, “Mental health and substance-use issues can upend anyone’s life if not adequately addressed. The coordinated efforts of this council will help ensure that we continue to focus on providing the most comprehensive treatment and behavioral health services needed to improve the overall health of older citizens of our state.”

New York State Division of Veterans’ Services Director James McDonough Jr. said, “The history of military service is littered with individual veterans who have fought hard to overcome their experiences in service to our country, particularly with those who have served in combat throughout the course of American history. Fortunately, we now recognize these experiences as trauma that requires empathy and holistic care and support, including to their extended families. We are honored to work with our partners on the council to ensure New York’s veterans and their families access the mental health services they require to secure their future.”

National Older Adult Mental Health Awareness Day takes place each May during Older Americans Month and Mental Health Awareness Month. National Older Adult Mental Health Awareness Day raises awareness of older adults’ mental health needs; promotes evidence-based prevention, treatment, and recovery supports; encourages collaboration between mental health and aging networks; and highlights where to seek services when needed.

Below are state and federal resources for older New Yorkers as well as information on behavioral health topics:

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