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Senior Spectrum Newspaper
January 2019
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Senior Spectrum Publications

Opinion
by Senator Catherine Cortez Masto
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Supporting the Mental Health of Nevada’s Seniors 

Senator Catherine Cortez Masto
Senator Catherine Cortez Masto

During the holiday season, we are reminded to cherish time with family, to be thankful for our parents, grandparents and elders, and to check in on our neighbors who may be experiencing loneliness or health problems. While this is important during the holidays, these actions are just as meaningful throughout the rest of the year. In fact, as the holidays wind down, many seniors are particularly vulnerable to heightened feelings of anxiety, isolation and depression. Though depression treatment and suicide prevention efforts are often focused around young people, depression affects 15 out of every 100 American adults over the age of 65. We must take action to ensure seniors in Nevada, and across the country, are not suffering alone.

Seniors face multiple risk factors that heighten their risk for mental health problems later in life. While all of us experience life stressors, older adults are vulnerable to reduced mobility, chronic health conditions, responsibility to care for loved ones with health challenges, new financial worries and isolation, which can all be triggers for psychological conditions like anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. That is why I’ve been working hard in Washington to reduce stressors on seniors by ensuring they have access to quality mental health care and strong support systems.

In the Senate, I have fought against misguided cuts to Medicare and Medicaid that provide seniors with crucial mental health coverage and preventative care. Medicare Part B covers one mental health screening a year, so seniors can seek quality advice from a primary care doctor. In addition, I’m a proud cosponsor of the Americans Giving Care to Elders (AGE) Act, which would provide financial relief to family caregivers by creating a tax credit for the costs of caring for an aging relative. Lowering the costs of caregiving will help ensure that elderly or sick patients aren’t worried about placing a burden on their family, and that older adults caring for aging spouses, friends or parents aren’t isolated from their communities due to the financial demands of caregiving.

I’ve also been fighting in the Senate to help fund and develop new prevention methods and public health infrastructure to combat Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that up to 40 percent of people with Alzheimer’s disease suffer from significant depression, even though doctors are often slow to identify and diagnose depression in those with forms of dementia. I’m proud to have supported the bipartisan Building Our Largest Dementia (BOLD) Infrastructure for Alzheimer’s Act with Senator Susan Collins (RMaine).

This bill, which recently passed Congress, establishes a public health infrastructure to implement effective Alzheimer's interventions by educating communities about risk factors of dementia and its related mental health challenges. Educating patients, caregivers and the public about the prevalence of depression and other mental health struggles in older Americans will help create a supportive community for older Americans in need.

Across Nevada, agencies are collaborating with the federal government to take further steps to improve the mental health of our senior population. Recently, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) granted Nevada $2 million to expand Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHC) in Carson City and Lyon County, which can help seniors access both inpatient and outpatient mental health treatment options. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) also awarded $8 million in grant funding to the Silver State, which will go in part toward building new senior centers across the state. These grants will provide seniors with improved access to quality healthcare and connect older Nevadans to active, caring communities and support systems.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts and needs immediate support, you can call the Institute on Aging, which maintains a national 24/7 Friendship Line at 1-800-971-0061. This crisis line is the only one in the country accredited for people aged 60 years and older. The National Alliance of Mental Illness also has a 24/7 Nevada specific crisis hotline at 775-784-8090 as well as support groups and recovery programs throughout the state. Go to www.naminevada.org to learn more about Nevada specific resources.

This winter, I want to tell all seniors struggling with depression or mental health issues that they are not alone. Depression and mental illness are not a choice, but rather conditions that require comprehensive support and treatment. I stand with our Nevada’s seniors and their families as well as their health providers in making sure those in need have every resource necessary to support them and help in their recovery.