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By Cassie MacDonell

Local Journalism Initiative

“Sometimes (older adults) don’t want to admit they are having a problem,” Esther Barnett, president of Mental Health Estrie, explained.

May 2 kicked off this year’s edition of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Mental Health Week. This year’s theme? Empathy. The theme will centre around breaking the stigma of mental health by using active listening, without using judgement.

Every May, for the last 72 years, CMHA has hosted its Mental Health Week. You read that right. Seventy-two years. Since 1950, supporting people’s mental health has been the goal of the CMHA, however, conversations about mental health only made their way into the mainstream population in the last decade. Older adults have experienced this stigma for most of their lives.

Mental health has worsened over the course of the pandemic. According to Statistics Canada, almost 18 per cent of Québec citizens aged 65 and over report their current mental health as worse compared to their pre-pandemic levels. This does not include those who, as Barnett stated, may not want to admit what they are going through.

The President of Mental Health Estrie provided The Record with insight about the reality of older adults and mental health. Mental Health Estrie is a non-profit that helps English-speaking families of Estrie and the surrounding areas manage the impacts of mental illness.

“One of the biggest problems (during the pandemic) was loneliness,” explained Barnett, “social networks were cut off.” The pandemic affected older adults particularly hard because they are often the most at-risk, therefore may be less willing to leave home. In addition, they may not have means of mobility to leave their homes and see people.

“You can call people but it’s not the same as seeing them in person,” Barnett remarked.

Barnett pointed towards Lennoxville and District Community Aid, an organization that helps those 65 and over, as a resource that can help older adults with mobility. For instance, Community Aid volunteers transport and accompany older adults to locations such as banks, medical appointments, and more.

The organization also has a Meals on Wheels program to provide well-balanced meals that are delivered to the doorsteps of those in need. Barnett also cited the slew of volunteers who stepped up at the beginning of the pandemic to help the elderly Estrie community get groceries and other essential items delivered to their homes.

If mobility is only one part of the barrier, Community Aid also offers its Friendly Contacts program which aids those in need of companionship. They can also help write letters and fill in forms. Creating connections and socializing with others can help with loneliness.

Stigma is another barrier that older adults face. Barnett explained that many adults grew up in a time where mental health was seldom discussed, so it may be hard for older adults to talk openly about their mental health.

Many associations in the Estrie region have initiatives during Mental Health Week that revolve around the main message of Empathy. Secours-Amitié Estrie has its phone line in which volunteers provide a space for callers to listen and vent. Talking to someone can help regulate emotions, connect with others, and aid in feeling less isolated.

Taking care of personal mental health is important, and does not end after Mental Health Week.

More information on mental health week is available online at https://www.mentalhealthweek.ca/the-power-of-empathy/

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