VOICES: Unique partnership supports mental health needs of older adults

In May, we celebrate both Older Americans Month and Mental Health Awareness Month. They are two seemingly unrelated celebrations originated by different organizations, but the subjects are more connected than you may think.

Older adults are at higher risk for depression because of a unique set of risk factors that include chronic health conditions, decreased functional ability, reduced mobility, chronic pain, financial issues, elder abuse, caregiver stress, lack of physical activity and loneliness. They are also more likely to experience bereavement, which has been linked to depression.

This is where the Uplift program comes in. Uplift is a joint program of Council on Aging (COA) and the Butler County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services Board. The program is managed by Butler Behavioral Health Services.

Uplift helps Butler County residents age 60 and older address depression and anxiety and other related issues such as trauma and grief. Participants receive up to eight in-person therapy sessions and three follow-up maintenance sessions by phone with their therapist.

“First, we do an assessment. We will meet with them and get to know what is the presenting problem…to understand what they are currently going through and how we can be a partner to help them,” said Kelsea Storms, LSW, a therapist with the program.

“The program is very goal-oriented and objective driven,” Storms said. “I tell my clients that the work you put in is the work you get out and my goal is making changes for you and for you to be able to advocate for yourself.”

Middletown resident Roger Sears, 67, is a graduate of the Uplift program. Sears’ wife died in 2018 after 32 years of marriage. “I was the only one in the apartment,” he said. “I was lonely, and I was depressed. I was to the point where I was ramming my head into the wall.”

After completing the program, Sears reported “it’s like daylight and dark. I’m feeling a whole lot better.”

Since its beginnings as a pilot program in 2007, Uplift has assisted more than 2,000 older adults like Sears in Butler County. According to Storms, Butler Behavioral Health Services statistics show individuals who complete the program experience a reduction by half in their depressive symptoms.

Sears was comfortable seeking help, but some older adults are hesitant. “There is a lot of stigma surrounding mental health with [older adults], but we work to make quality relationships with clients who might be being heard for the first time and who have been struggling to stay above water,” said Storms.

One of the primary pathways leading older adults to Uplift is through the Butler County Elderly Services Program (ESP), which is administered by COA. Sixty percent of Uplift’s referrals come from ESP care managers who identify a need for its services for their clients.

“Those in the older generation might have a reluctance to talk to their primary care physician about it or may not even know where to begin to get help. Or they don’t want to be a burden to their families and don’t want them to worry,” said Kate Laubenthal, COA’s ESP program manager.

“Having ESP being an identifying source for Uplift referrals, we often see people opening up to their care manager to share what’s really going on,” she added.

Although most referrals to Uplift come through ESP, Butler County residents age 60 or older may be eligible to participate in the no-cost program. “Anyone can refer anyone,” Storms said. “We will call them back within two days and talk to them and try to break down any stigma and introduce ourselves.”

“Butler County is so fortunate to have a service like Uplift,” said Laubenthal. “The county has been a real trailblazer in these services being made available.”

While Uplift only operates in Butler County, there are other programs and supports available to older adults in the broader southwestern Ohio community.

When an older adult doesn’t recognize or is not willing to discuss that they may be struggling, having others around them trained to recognize symptoms and guide the individual to appropriate care is useful.

The Mental Health First Aid training program teaches participants to recognize when others might be experiencing a mental health challenge. Offered by Mental Health America of Northern Kentucky and Southwest Ohio, the program is free in Ohio to older adults, those around them and those who work with them.

“It teaches practical skills to help people be aware,” said Michelle Rolf, a coordinator for the Ohio Mental Health First Aid Collaborative. “It’s a really great training for anyone.”

Council on Aging (COA) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing quality of life for older adults, people with disabilities, their families and caregivers.


· To make a referral to Uplift for yourself or someone you know (must be a Butler County resident age 60 or older) visit Butler Behavioral Health at https://www.bbhs.org/make-a-referral/ or call (513) 896-7887.

· To inquire about enrolling in the Butler County Elderly Services Program, visit LifeSpan Community First Solutions at https://www.community-first.org/senior-resources/ or call (513) 868-9281.

· For information about programs and services for older adults in Montgomery, Clark, Champaign, Darke, Greene, Logan, Miami, Preble and Shelby counties, contact Area Agency on Aging at (937) 223-HELP.

· Information about Mental Health First Aid is available at https://ohiomhfa.org.

· Older adults may self-screen for a variety of mental health conditions on Mental Health America’s website, https://www.mhankyswoh.org.

· The National Institute of Mental Health offers guidance for older adults related to mental health on its website, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/older-adults-and-mental-health.

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