In April, a team from JFS was invited to present at the statewide annual conference of the Minnesota Gerontological Society (MGS), attended by more than 500 professionals from throughout the state. The focus of the conference was “The Future of Aging: Rethink, Reimagine, Redesign.”
The JFS team presented “Challenges and Solutions to Mental Health Services for Older Adults,” a panel discussion that included a brief overview of JFS; mental health concerns and trauma in older adults; psychotherapy; the JFS PEARLS program; the expansion of tele-counseling to rural Minnesota; and the JFS In Home Art Therapy program.
More than 75 people chose to attend this presentation from a list of 15 sessions. The JFS team helped to increase and enhance knowledge and understanding of the many complexities of mental health and wellness in older adults. The most difficult challenges include the stigma for mental health issues that remains. For many older adults who grew up during the Great Depression and WWII, that stigma is even stronger. They were told they simply needed to “pull themselves up by the bootstraps.” There is also a common belief that depression is a normal part of aging when indeed it is not. Around one in five older adults experience depression, and 80 percent of older adults experiencing depression respond to treatment.
Furthermore, a shortage of gerontologists and professionals trained specifically in senior depression is pronounced. Transportation for many older adults is also a significant barrier to receiving professional services. In the metro area, there are very few mental health clinicians who provide counseling services for older adults living in their own homes. Medicare reimbursement for counseling services is low. Medicare does not pay for travel time to and from a client’s home, making it difficult for counseling programs to break even.