Older Arkansans Face Mental-Health Challenges During COVID-19
As Mental Health Awareness Month comes to a close, Arkansas health officials are reminding older adults of resources available, as the social isolation of the pandemic has hit them particularly hard.
One in four older adults nationwide reported anxiety and depression during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a study.
Dr. Tammy Alexander, licensed psychologist and assistant director of the Arkansas Department of Human Services, Division of Aging, Adult, and Behavioral Health Services, said social distancing cut many older adults off from support networks, which exacerbated mental-health challenges.
"That connection helps with just regulating our mental health," Alexander explained. "Having that connection and being involved and feeling supported by our friends and family. So much of that in-person connection was cut off during COVID, that I think most people had some negative impacts."
The state Department of Human Services (DHS) supports 12 community mental-health centers able to serve people who are uninsured or underinsured. For people without insurance who need "light-touch" mental health counseling services, DHS supports therapeutic counseling in all 75 counties in the state.
Dr. Rhonda Randall, executive vice president and chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare employer and individual, agreed it is important to look out for signs of mental-health challenges in loved ones. It may mean an uncharacteristic disinterest in activities they usually enjoy, a change in sleep patterns or mentioning feelings of hopelessness. She added it is important for people to seek help from a trusted health professional.
"Mental health is part of our health," Randall stated. "It's a conversation you should be having with your primary-care physician when you go get your annual checkups, especially if you already have an established relationship. And it can be a really good place to start, and also take into context your other medical conditions."
According to the 2021 America's Health Rankings Report from United Health Foundation, 23.5% of Arkansans reported being told by a doctor they had a depressive disorder.