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As part of our program, A Voice for Hope and Healing, I spoke to a group of dozens of Senior Companions that participate in a program where they go into the home of an older adult and do activities with them. This companion program has been going on for nearly 50 years and occurs throughout the country. The idea of simply being a companion to someone in their home – washing dishes, reading, playing cards, doing laundry, changing linens, etc – is a simple one, but it is also a very successful one. The individuals they serve are able to live independently longer, in part because of this companionship program. There was one woman celebrating her 97th birthday, and has had the same companion for more than 20 years!
I talk about this program, not only because it is an incredible example of success and longevity, but because as I spoke to them about mental health and services in the community, they cited numerous examples of gaps and frustrations they were experiencing in services for themselves, family members, and other loved ones. Their frustration was nearly palpable as they shared stories of being rejected from services; doors shutting on inpatient facilities and now scrambling unsuccessfully to find a place for a nephew; being unaware of where they could turn to seek outpatient services that would take them right now; when it seems like help is only available if their daughter or friend is in crisis, but so much more could be done prior to that happening with the right treatment in place; the funding not being available to help with services or to extend or expand new and existing services; the conversation went well beyond this and my heart went out to these individuals who are giving so much of themselves, and asking so little in return.
As we know, these challenges aren’t new and I have heard them from numerous groups as I have gotten out into the community more. I echo the questions that a number of them voiced during my presentation, what is being done to fix these challenges and why are they allowed to exist in the first place? How can we have a government and community who stand for the injustice of it all? And what can we do as mental health advocates or interested people to make a difference? These very questions came from individual after individual in the room. Personally I think education and awareness are key, as is collaboration between agencies to serve our community most effectively. Educating those who are in a position of power to influence funding is essential. Last week I had a Senator who represents a district in Omaha tell me and few other interested parties that we already spend too much on mental health in our state! My guess is that he’s never taken the time to sit down with a family or individual who is struggling to find help and work toward recovery.
We here at the foundation would love your feedback on this if you’re from an organization seeking solutions to overcome gaps and barriers in our community. How are you doing this? What collaboration efforts are going on to better serve individuals and families? Just as I commended those Senior Companions for giving of their time and making a difference in an older adult’s life, I want to commend each of you who are serving the community in some capacity, and making a difference in a family’s or individual’s recovery efforts. As we know, it is a long road, but a much easier road with a little guidance and a companion to help us navigate it.