Mental Health First Aid for Older Americans…Why do Aging White Males Commit Suicide in Alarming Numbers?

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Steve Sparks during a visit with Mom, Marcella Sparks, in 2015. Mom passed away at 97 on January 1, 2016.

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Sun Valley, Idaho, May 2016

Mental Health First Aid for Older Adults  from NYC Health…City of New York…

“Mental illness and aging can often be a double stigma. According to the National Council on Aging, the number of Americans 85 and older will triple by the year 2050. Older adults and care partners are less likely to identify a problem as a symptom of a mental health disorder. Furthermore, older adults have high rates of late onset mental health disorders (anxiety/depression) and low rates of identification and treatment. This curriculum module will help existing Adult MHFA Instructors in good standing reach this population with updated prevalence data, a new film, and scenarios.”

Go to…Mental Health First Aid 8 hour training…  The Mental Health First Aid USA for Older Adults curriculum is primarily focused on information participants can use to help adults ages 65 and over.

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I didn’t know until listening to a 2 hour presentation on mental health and depression in older adults, that among the elderly population, aging white males commit suicide in America at a 98% higher rate than all others.  I was actually shocked at first but now understand why (Colorado State University report). “In the United States, older men of European descent (so-called white men) have significantly higher suicide rates than any other demographic group. For example, their suicide rates are significantly higher than those of older men of African, Latino or Indigenous descent, as well as relative to older women across ethnicities.”

Depression is the culprit, especially for those who have difficulty being as opposed to doing.  I consider myself in the category of an older white male who loves living in the moment or being, but also thrives in doing the things I care about.  When my own retirement became a reality, it was very tough to find the the new chapter of doing something that provided me with the same ego fulfilling experience as did my long corporate and business career.  I found after experimenting with volunteer work in the community and public service that making a difference for others gave me the balance needed to thrive and preserve a healthy mind and body.  We older Americans, by choice, can map out our lives by being ourselves in the context of all we care about, including pursuing professional and vocational outlets for continued growth and personal rewards.  We can also take in the romance and adventure offered in life by fulfilling your bucket list of the amazing places to visit and explore around the globe or at home.  There are so many things to do as we age, assuming our good health is maintained.

In terms of mental health awareness, there is a higher probability of achieving and maintaining a healthy frame of mind by staying actively engaged, especially in social groups in the community.  Humans are herding beings and starve for social interaction and attention. Humans are not designed to be alone.  We are also challenged in today’s world when families become separated by great distances and live their own busy lives.  Older adults can become lonely and depressed over time.  A healthy body can take a big hit over time if one’s mind becomes depressed.  Being alone and less than engaged or active with others can cause a person to stop eating in healthy ways and exercising to stay in good shape.  Health issues can take shape gradually by not being active.

Sometimes though it feels like there is no place for us older Americans, so giving up is a risk. There will be starts and stops along this journey of aging, even some failures that are painful or hurtful.  But never give up…keep pushing and trying with your heart and mind.  Yes, take a break when needed, then try something new.  Get engaged with a reset attitude with new goals and opportunities.  Never say, “I’m done, it’s over.”  It is not in our nature to give up on anybody or anything, so keep on keeping on.  We live so much longer now in the 21st Century.  We boomers in our 70’s are needed in our community with our exceptional leadership qualities, wisdom, and new energy.  My grandson told me several years ago that older adults are needed to  mentor the younger generation succeeding us.  We are needed, so don’t run away.  Get busy and make stuff happen.  And don’t forget to create a balance so that the needed nap in the afternoon comes easily.  Go on the adventure to Alaska or Australia.  Take in the cultural events in your community.  Spend quality time with your family and friends and experience all the joys that life has to offer.  Remember, getting older is a privilege…many never see the morning sun of old age.  We owe to ourselves and others to show the way with our wisdom until the very last day of our lives…

Steve Sparks, Author, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story and My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part 1&2… Click the highlighted text for my author page and to order books and other stuff on Amazon.

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Steve Sparks, Author, Child Advocate, and member, Lincoln County Oregon Mental Health Advisory Committee

 

 

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