Many Nevada seniors have isolated themselves to avoid the coronavirus and stay well during the pandemic.
That isolation, though, can lead to its own health challenges, including depression and higher risks of suicide.
After months with reduced outside contact, more seniors are showing signs of mental health issues, according to Marcia Blake, executive director of Helping Hands of Vegas Valley, a nonprofit that serves seniors.
She told State of Nevada that being deprived of social interactions like going to restaurants or casinos can weigh on seniors’ mental well-being.
“A lot of them are expressing to us that they are very lonely that this pandemic has really cut them off from their socialization aspects,” she said, “We’re finding that that loneliness is really starting to sink in as the pandemic continues to go on and on.”
Blake said volunteers and case managers from her organizations work constantly to contact their clients to make sure they're okay and if they need anything.
She said those conversations, “help them to know that somebody cares about them, is looking out for them, and is worried when we don’t hear from them.”
For the past 10 years, Helping Hands of Vegas Valley has been delivering groceries to clients who can't make it to the store, but because of the pandemic, those deliveries are now contactless.
Blake said that has hurt efforts to keep an eye on clients. Volunteers would be able to check in once a month to see how people are doing in their homes. If there was a change in behavior or grooming, they would contact a case manager to request a well check.
“Without those eyes and ears looking at the client, physically seeing how they look, it is a little more challenging,” she said.
Since a lot of people don't like talking to strangers on the phone about their mental or physical condition, it has been more difficult to know how people are doing, Blake said, but those they have talked with are expressing how lonely they feel.
“In talking to my case managers, they’ve noted that there is actually a greater increase in loneliness, not necessarily that it’s led to depression yet, but there is a good chance that the longer this pandemic goes on that it can lead to more a depressive state versus just being the lonely state,” she said.
Bob Vadovic, medical director for high-risk and advanced-practice providers at Intermountain Healthcare, said people concerned about elderly parents or other seniors can lift spirits through phone calls or socially distanced in-person visits.
“Those every other day calls. Those once a week calls go a long way to help the patient feel like they have somebody with them,” he said.
Vadovic said if you find someone in need of help call Nevada's 211 social services hotline or call their primary care physician. Those calls can trigger the help and resources people need.
He said in his practice he has seen an uptick in the number of seniors in need of help.
“The biggest issues we’ve been seeing recently is just increased depression, anxiety and that loneliness. People are just feeling very lonely and afraid at home by themselves at this point, not having anyone to reach out to,” he said.
Vadovic noted that suicide rates have been stable lately but it is still a major problem in Nevada.
“That loneliness and depression start to build and just leads people to want to think about hurting themselves or killing themselves,” he said.
He said in his clinic they try to establish as many 'touchpoints' as possible with clients to make sure they are okay and let them know someone is there to help if they are not okay.
They also work with primary care physicians to look for signs of depression and anxiety in older people.
“A lot of times, patients will come in with physical complaints that may be a result of their depression or anxiety and we’ll recognize that and tie it back to those behavioral health issues,” he said.
It is not just doctors who should be watching out for patients, Vadovic said. He advises family, friends and neighbors to check in regularly with seniors who might be feeling isolated so they can provide a point of connection to help if needed.
Mental health experts say Nevada poses unique risks, including a transient population, rural areas lacking in mental health services, and communication barriers caused by a diverse population.
The state has one of the highest suicide rates in the country, and the United Health Foundation says on the issue of seniors and suicide, Nevada is the least-healthiest state.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Counseling Services – University of Nevada, Reno
Counseling Center – Truckee Meadows Community College, Reno
Student Wellness Center – University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Mobile Crisis Response Team - Hotline: South: 702-486-7865 or North: 775-688-1670
Crisis Call Center - Text Line - Text - "Listen" to 839863
De Prevencion del Suicido - 1-888-628-9454
Bob Vadovic, medical director for high-risk and advanced-practice providers, Intermountain Healthcare; Marcia Blake, executive director, Helping Hands of Vegas Valley