The green ribbons you may be seeing in your inbox or social media feed represent Mental Health Awareness Month, established in 1949 to educate the public and reduce the stigma for people who are struggling with mental health issues. It’s a time to raise awareness about these challenges and the importance of supporting people who are affected by them.
While older adults can struggle with a wide range of mental health issues, depression and anxiety are among the most common. Both conditions are exacerbated by loneliness and isolation—which seniors face frequently. Loneliness and isolation can affect one’s physical health, too: in the absence of social interaction and support, seniors can experience cognitive decline and develop an increased risk of dementia, as well as heart disease and stroke.
One thing we can do to help seniors feel less isolated? Help them build connection.
“Helping people overcome isolation is about creating community,” says Rabbi Daniel Isaacson, Director of Spiritual Care Services for JFCS. “Being seen, sharing our experiences, normalizing the feelings that we’re having—these are part of helping us feel less alone.”
Seniors At Home and Jewish Family and Children’s Services offer several ways to help seniors feel more connected to others:
Caregiver Support Groups
Designed for family caregivers, Seniors At Home’s support groups meet online and offer an opportunity for those caring for a loved one with memory loss to receive emotional support, information, and resources. These peer-led and professionally-moderated groups meet weekly.
Grief Support Groups
People who have experienced a personal loss are welcome to join JFCS’ bereavement group, which is facilitated by professional grief counselors and meets regularly over an eight-week period. The group helps people coping with the loss of a loved one find support, community, and healing.
“Grief can be very isolating,” says Rabbi Isaacson. “In the absence of a culture and society that naturally supports grief, bereavement groups can help someone give themselves permission to have the experience they’re experiencing. Meeting others experiencing the same or similar emotions creates a kind of community.”
One-on-one support can often be helpful for people who are struggling. Seniors At Home’s team of licensed therapists is available for individual counseling, offering seniors help on a short- or long-term basis.
As part of his role at JFCS and Seniors At Home, Rabbi Isaacson also provides counseling to individuals when they are suffering, feeling disconnected, or experiencing a sense of unease. Often people seek his support after experiencing a loss, though his counseling services aren’t always bereavement-oriented. Rabbi Isaacson’s professional background as an interfaith chaplain and certification as a practitioner in the NeuroAffective Relational Model of therapy (NARM) make him a valuable resource for individuals seeking support.
“My experience gives me the capacity and comfort level to address what’s going on internally with a person,” he says. “Working one-on-one is one of the most meaningful and fulfilling part of my work.”
Humans are social creatures; building and maintaining connections and community is what allows us to thrive. During Mental Health Awareness Month we hope you consider ways to support people around you who are struggling, as well as take stock of your own mental well-being. Remember, we’re all in this together.