Older Arkansans face mental health challenges during COVID 19 / Public News Service

As Mental Health Awareness Month draws to a close, Arkansas health officials are reminding seniors of available resources, as the social isolation of the pandemic has hit them especially hard.

According to a study, one in four seniors nationally reported anxiety and depression during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Tammy Alexander, a licensed psychologist and assistant director of the Arkansas Department of Social Services, Division of Aging, Adult, and Behavioral Health Services, said social distancing has cut off many seniors from support networks, which exacerbated mental health problems.

“That connection just helps regulate our mental health,” Alexander explained. “Having that connection and being involved and feeling supported by our friends and family. Such an in-person connection has been cut during COVID, that I think most people have had negative impacts.”

The state’s Department of Human Services (DHS) supports 12 community mental health centers capable of serving the uninsured or underinsured. For people without insurance who need “light” mental health counseling services, DHS supports therapy counseling in all 75 counties of the state.

Dr. Rhonda Randall, executive vice president and chief medical officer of employer and individual UnitedHealthcare, agreed that it was important to look for signs of mental health issues in loved ones. It can mean an unusual disinterest in activities they usually enjoy, a change in sleep patterns, or mention feelings of hopelessness. She added that it is important for people to seek help from a trusted medical professional.

“Mental health is part of our health,” Randall said. “It’s a conversation you should have with your primary care physician when you go for your annual medical checkups, especially if you already have an established relationship. And that can be a really good starting point, and also put it into context. your other medical conditions.”

According to the United Health Foundation’s 2021 US Health Rankings report, 23.5% of Arkansans said they had been told by a doctor that they had a depressive disorder.

Disclosure: United Healthcare contributes to our health issue reporting fund. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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