Tri-Cities 1st in WA with this program for aging seniors with mental health struggles

Tri-City Herald file
·2 min read

Men 75 and older have the highest suicide rate in the United States at 40.1 per 100,000 suicides.

That’s about three times higher than the general population and almost 10 times higher than women the same age.

Senior Life Solutions, a program set to help seniors struggling with mental health problems, started in 2003 and has been in place in over 20 states but not Washington.

Lourdes Medical Center in Pasco is now partnering with Senior Life Solutions to meet mental health needs of people 65 and older.

Program director Becky Peterson said it is designed to help with issues that are unique and specific to older seniors who are experiencing mental health troubles, such as depression and anxiety, that are typically associated with aging.

Washington state is 24th in the nation in suicide rates, and nowhere is that increased risk more apparent than in older patients, according to data from the University of Washington’s School of Social Work.

Men age 75 to 84 in Washington had a suicide rate averaging 38.5 per 100,000 from 2012 to 2016.

And even older men had a staggeringly high rate of 64.2 during the same time period.

Peterson said Senior Life Solutions is a beneficial part in helping the older community because a lot of people believe depression comes with age, which is not the case.

“Our geriatric communities offer so much knowledge and life experiences, and they shouldn’t feel bad,” she said. “They should have (a) happy, fulfilling life.”

Anyone can make a referral or be referred to Senior Life Solutions.

Then, Peterson or a licensed social worker determines if the person is appropriate for the program.

They are then scheduled with psychiatrists in the program.

Various forms of therapy are offered, including group, individual and family, and therapy sessions are voluntary. The average time someone would be in the program is three to six months because it is not intended to be long-term.

“We work very hard to give our seniors the tools that they need to improve their mental health so they can take that knowledge and those lessons with them when their discharged,” Peterson said. “But we do have a great aftercare program. We follow up with our patients after their discharge to make sure that they’re still doing well.”

A teletherapy option also is available for patients who cannot make it to Lourdes’ physical location, so they can benefit from the resources offered from the comfort of their own homes.

“Studies show that they benefit the most from being in person, but we don’t want anybody to be left behind by mobility limitations,” Peterson said.