Clackamas County: Older adults can tackle social isolation
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and I would like to invite you to reach out and connect with older adults in your family and your community. Older adults in our county are at higher risk of dying from suicide than any other age group, and connection is an essential protective factor.
There is obviously a lot going on in our lives as we age. Life-changing transitions like retirement, losing a driver's license or moving out of a longtime home can hit older adults hard.
Despite that, it is also important to understand that loneliness, loss of interest in activities, isolated behavior and trouble sleeping are not normal parts of aging. They are often indicators of depression, and untreated depression can lead to suicide.
As always, if you or someone you know is in a mental health crisis and needs help right away, call Clackamas County's Crisis and Support Line at 503-655-8585 or the national Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.
I hope, though, that before you or someone you know gets to that point, you will take action to stay connected to, engaged with and valued by your local community. My Behavioral and Public Health staff point to that as a key to reducing depression and suicide among older adults.
One of the very best ways I know of to do that is to volunteer in your local community.
The science is clear: Volunteering is good for us. It's been shown to buffer us from depression by giving us a sense of purpose and engagement. Research points to it as a sure way to tackle loneliness and social isolation. According to Senior Corps reports, 82% of older adults report that volunteering helps them feel less lonely.
Research even shows that volunteers actually live longer.
Moreover, you can make a huge difference helping other older adults or people with disabilities live healthier, more socially connected, independent lives. A volunteer named Mary in our Senior Companion Program told us:
"I visit and help five seniors ranging from 67 years of age to 96 years of age. Some are blind, deaf or have physical and medical limitations. All tell me nearly every visit that they wouldn't have made it this far if it weren't for my services. I now feel needed. I have a purpose every day when I get up. Being a Senior Companion has been and will continue to be my greatest accomplishment."
I hope you'll consider volunteering; it will help improve your own life and the lives of others as we grow older.
Rodney Cook is the director of Clackamas County's Health, Housing and Human Services Department.
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