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  • Writer's pictureMargot G. Birke

Mental Health Month - "Look Around, Look Within"

May as Mental Health Month was established in 1949 by Mental Health America. This has obviously been a concern for a long time and yet diagnosis of a mental health disorder carries with it a stigma that continues to plague those who suffer these illnesses.

This year’s theme is “Look Around, Look Within.” What does that mean? Environmental factors, such as where we live, learn, and work, are a major contributor towards mental health. Whether we are young or old, we all benefit from having a stable environment, a strong community, and easy access to needed services.

How can we “Look Around, Look Within,” to find ways we can improve our surroundings to facilitate good mental health for ourselves and those we care for?

Get outside and stay active

Spending time outside is age-old advice for good mental well-being. Improved focus, lower stress levels, and a decrease in risk of developing mental health conditions are just some of the benefits. As we age it can become harder to be as active as we would like. However, spending time in nature doesn’t have to mean hiking up a mountain. Going for a walk around the neighborhood, having a cup of coffee on your porch, or joining your grandchildren at the park can all be effective ways to get outside and boost your mood.

What if you or your loved one are housebound? Bring the outdoors inside with plants, open windows, and lots of sunlight. Participate in the level of activity possible for your circumstances, even if it is gentle movement for only a few minutes a day.

Harness the power of community

In this digital age it can be difficult to maintain a strong sense of community. However, being involved in the community is important as it can help in both tangible and intangible ways. Receiving support, whether it is practical assistance or emotional support, can make a huge difference both for older adults and their caregivers.

Your local Council on Aging (or Senior Center) is an invaluable tool for any community. There, older adults can enjoy enriching activities and association, connect with their peers, and also find good advice for many issues unique to their age group. The council on aging can provide services directly and can refer individuals to other useful organizations that offer services such as free transportation, meal programs, Medicare application assistance, and much more.

Of course, declining cognitive abilities is a major concern as we age. “Dementia Friendly Massachusetts” provides a number of resources for persons in this situation. If this is a subject of interest check out their “Age & Dementia Friendly Integration Toolkit.” In addition, there are a number of “Dementia Friendly Towns” in Massachusetts. Check out the list and what services/opportunities they provide.

NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization providing information and services across the board for those so diagnosed and those who love them. Other useful community-based services to consider are adult day-care programs, geriatric care managers, social workers, community health advisors, and respite care, among others.

Be prepared for a crisis

When disaster strikes, stress levels are high. This is not a good time to be making major decisions. Have certain documents completed and readily available; in particular, your health care proxy, HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability Act Authorization) and power of attorney should be accessible by your agents.

Do you know who will care for your pet(s) if you are unable to do so? What types of life-sustaining treatments do you want or not want? What should be done with your home? There are many questions surrounding the potential of something unexpected happening to you.

In such stressful times, having planned ahead of time can make a world of difference for yourself and for your family. If you have not done so already, getting basic estate planning documents is the first step towards being prepared for a crisis. Depending on your circumstances, a trust may or may not be extremely beneficial for preplanning as well. For this complex area of law, we highly recommend consulting with a qualified elder law attorney. If you live in the North Shore/Merrimack Valley area, you can contact us here for more information.

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