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Increasing isolation affecting seniors’ mental health

Isolation is a big piece and will continue to be a big piece when it comes to seniors’ mental health, says a counsellor with the Calgary Counselling Centre.

“Mental health issues do not discriminate and it can happen to anyone at any time, at any age,” notes Marcus Cheung, manager of counselling initiatives with the Calgary Counselling Centre.

“According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, we know that by 2041, seniors will have the highest rate of mental health issues in Canada. And in our society, one in four seniors already live with a mental health problem.”

Cheung sees that number as growing and hence the need for adequate and effective mental health services.

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Since COVID-19, Cheung notes that the challenges faced by seniors to connect with others have increased. Also, the way that people interact has become more virtual, as opposed to in-person.

“Seniors may have difficulty adapting to the changes, and the changes were so rapid that it can cause quite a bit of difficulty as well.”

Cheung adds this to the loss of mobility and other health issues affecting seniors which is compounded by the loss of relationships, whether it is the busy lives of adult-children, the lack of children or as family and friends pass away.

“Those can pose significant challenges for our seniors when it comes to their mental health.”

For seniors living in rural areas, there may be more options for close-knit settings when compared to a big city. While the coffee pot is always on at the local seniors centre, in both rural and urban areas, seniors face the fear of stepping out of their space to overcome loneliness and isolation.

“The fear is mostly around getting help. What we do know is that it can be a tremendous step for somebody to be asking for help. There are feelings of embarrassment, shame and the general stigma,” says Cheung.

To get to the point of taking action, Cheung says you may not need to seek professional counselling services, but simply reach out and talk to someone.

“When we are talking to people, we are getting stimulation, feedback and multiple perspectives. It’s about learning about ourselves and the world. Age has no limit to it.”

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He adds when we step out of our comfort zone, and talk to others, it is a great opportunity to learn more about who we are.

He says that the people who come into the counselling room, are mainly struggling with the desire to connect with others, but in particular, seniors are battling how the world is changing.

Ultimately, Cheung goes back to basics. He encourages the small steps in taking action against being alone.

“The first step is to get out to the door. Go to a coffee shop. Say “hi” to the cashier. Have interactions with people. It could be a smile with a stranger. Say “hello” and “good morning.”

Cheung sees this ordinary routine as being a good starting point, and in a crisis, reach out for professional help. Counselling Alberta is available in person in several cities and also online.

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