Counseling can help seniors with many life situations

Monday, October 3, 2011
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By Robyn Gautschy

If the cold, dreary days of fall bring you down in the dumps, you're not alone. Seasonal affective disorder, likely due to a lack of vitamin D-boosting sunshine, is quite common. Whether you've been feeling sad and lonely for several weeks or several months, counseling might be just what you need.

"Counseling can give a new perspective on things," says Carol Dippold, a gerontological counselor at Lutheran Family and Children's Services in Cape Girardeau. "If you're caught in a situation and you've got blinders on, you can't quite see the situation for what it is. Counseling is an opportunity to have someone else listen and shed a new light and reflect on what you're saying, so that you can see it in a new way."

The Community Counseling Center in Cape Girardeau has received a Missouri Foundation for Health grant and is now collaborating with LFCS, Cross Trails Medical Center and the Southeast Missouri Area Agency on Aging to provide counseling and psychiatry services for senior adults.

"We address grief, loneliness, isolation, depression -- any emotional concern they have," says Dippold. Substance abuse and anger issues may also be addressed, says Dr. Sharon Braun, Ph.D., a licensed professional counselor with the Community Counseling Center.

What happens during one-on-one talk therapy at LFCS and how long it lasts depends on the client's needs.

"It might be a grief-type situation; they might be depressed or anxious and worried; they might have social issues with their adult children. They might be trying to get themselves out of the house but are not able to emotionally do that," says Dippold. "We might set goals on what they want to do and try different behavior techniques to accomplish those goals. Some just need someone to talk to. They have no family or associates to share with, so it's a really a supportive presence that we offer."

Dippold likes to think of LFCS counseling as a "help line" for many of the social needs that come with aging.

In addition to emotional support and encouragement, counseling often helps clients find other community resources they might find helpful, such as support groups or in-home caregiving.

Braun says counseling can also improve clients' stability and self-esteem, cut the risk of substance abuse and help older adults live independently in their homes for as long as possible - and that's a major concern for most seniors.

"Too many seniors in these situations isolate themselves," says Braun. "They don't get the mental health services they need because they're afraid of losing their independence, being placed in a nursing home or losing control of their lives. They're concerned about the cost of services and they don't want to be a burden to anyone."

But affordable counseling is available for seniors and low-income individuals, and Braun and Dippold encourage anyone with emotional struggles to ask for help. Dippold recommends seeking counseling if your depression, anxiety or grief seems to be going on for longer than what you think is a reasonable amount of time. Watch for substance abuse, uncontrollable crying or thoughts of suicide, says Braun. If it's a consistent problem that affects your everyday activities, it might be time to make the call.

"All emotions and concerns are different. You can be grieving for up to a year and, depending on the situation, that can be very acceptable. For others, six to eight weeks might be questionable," says Dippold. "It just depends on what's going on in your life."

One of the most important things seniors can do for their mental health is to spend time with others, whether it's having lunch each day at the senior center or volunteering in the community, say Braun and Dippold.

"Helping other people can help take the focus off your own needs by being of service and useful," says Dippold. "For some, a church and prayer life can be very helpful in overcoming things."

Exercise, a balanced diet and adequate sleep are also big factors to a healthy mind and spirit. Remember to take all of your medications as prescribed, says Braun, and don't be afraid to check out a self-help book.

If you think counseling might be for you, call LFCS, the Community Counseling Center or any other counselor you feel comfortable with. Some seniors feel better leaving a message or having a family member make the call on their behalf, says Dippold.

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