New Resource Helps Senior Centers Promote Behavioral Health and Prevent Suicide

October 01, 2015

News Type:  Director's Corner
Author:  Kana Enomoto, MA, Acting Administrator, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; Kathy Greenlee, JD, Administrator, Administration for Community Living; Jerry Reed, PhD, MSW, SPRC Director, Education Development Center, Inc.

Suicide takes a tremendous toll on older adults, particularly men over the age of 65. Yet the number of older adults in the United States is growing. Nearly 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day. The good news is that there are more than 11,000 senior centers that offer a wide range of services and supports to help older adults stay mentally and physically healthy and live independently in their communities.

In order to support the work of these valuable organizations, SAMHSA and the Administration for Community Living are pleased to release Promoting Emotional Health and Preventing Suicide: A Toolkit for Senior Centers. This resource serves as a companion piece to the SAMHSA publication Promoting Emotional Health and Preventing Suicide: A Toolkit for Senior Living Communities. The toolkit for senior centers includes resources to help senior centers implement three strategies that promote emotional health, recognize and respond to suicide risk, and respond to a suicide attempt or death.

The toolkit provides information to help senior centers connect with behavioral health resources in their communities. Community mental health organizations and other partners can help train senior center staff and volunteers to recognize suicide risk and welcome referrals from the centers to help reduce this risk. Some of these community mental health providers even offer direct services in the senior centers themselves, which helps overcome two common barriers older adults face in accessing mental health care: lack of transportation and reluctance to seek help from an unfamiliar provider in a new and sometimes intimidating environment.

For senior centers who serve older adults that are homebound, the toolkit helps identify other professionals who can help carry out the suicide prevention strategies. Organizations who provide home visits, senior shuttle programs, Meals on Wheels, and other services can equip their staff to recognize signs that may indicate a client is at risk of suicide or may be experiencing a behavioral health problem.

Senior centers and their dedicated professionals and volunteers play a critical role in preventing suicide among older adults. Ensuring they know how to access resources and are versed in suicide prevention strategies will help them better serve people who may be at risk.  We hope Promoting Emotional Health and Preventing Suicide: A Toolkit for Senior Centers both encourages and assists those efforts.

The toolkit was prepared for SAMHSA by Synergy Enterprises, Inc., in collaboration with Education Development Center, Inc.