Shirley Rajotte knows what it’s like to be an older adult experiencing mental health challenges.
“When I turned 65, I stopped to think ‘Wow, I’ve got a great-granddaughter who’s three years old, will I be able to see her grow up?’” she said, in a press release. “And all of a sudden, all the aches and pains really started acting up!”
Rajotte said she’s struggled with anxiety and depression for much of her life, but aging brought its own new set of challenges.
Fortunately for others like Rajotte, NISA/Northern Initiative for Social Action is launching an Older Adult Peer Support Outreach Program, and it will bring peer support to adults 55 and over to help address emotional challenges and social isolation related to aging.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of people over 60 will nearly double over the next 30 years. With one in five older adults living with mental health challenges and dealing with multiple layers of prejudice due to age and illness, it’s critical that there are proper supports in place for every aspect of their health, including mental health.
NISA’s new program is just one part of that, and it is possible thanks to funding from Health Canada.
The funding from their Health Care Policy Contribution Program will cover the costs of running a 30-month pilot program that brings peer support to older adults via in-person support groups or one-to-one outreach sessions for older adults living in isolation.
“We’re trying to reach people where they’re at — emotionally and geographically — and change how mental health is seen in older adults,” said Chelsea Gauthier, program co-ordinator.
“There’s a real stigma still, and we want to make it easy, natural, and safe to access support.”
There will initially be three trained peer supporter workers available to meet with older adults, but NISA will build capacity and sustainability over time by training volunteer peer supporters in different parts of the community to carry on work after the pilot.
Peer support is based on the idea that people with first-hand experience of mental health challenges are uniquely equipped to help others find insight, resources, and ultimately, hope.
From her own experience, Rajotte knows how important it was for her recovery to talk through her problems and stay social. That’s why she'll be one of the people offering peer support as the program launches.
“I’m hoping that through this program, we can bring people out of their shells and out into the community,” said Rajotte. “Mental health challenges aren’t the end of the world, it can take a long time to recover, but there’s always hope.”
The next public information session about the Older Adult Peer Support Program is at 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 25, at Finlandia Village at 233 4th Ave in Sudbury in Voima Hall A in the Lepokoti building. Interested older adults and caregivers are welcome to attend to learn more and meet the peer support team.
NISA is a peer-run mental health organization located in downtown Sudbury which offers peer support along with active living, creative expression and occupational/vocational programming. It supports up to 70 members daily.
Its hours are Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. with evening support groups for families, mothers experiencing mood changes, and those with thoughts of suicide.
For more information visit www.nisa.on.ca and/or follow NISA on Facebook @nisasudbury.