Last year, NAMI Metropolitan Baltimore volunteers, Thelma Martin, Deneice Valentine and I had the opportunity to meet with senior adults experiencing depression through a research grant at Johns Hopkins. Through eight weekly one-on-one sessions, we helped the seniors to gain better coping skills and a more positive self-image.
Thelma, Deneice and I are long time NAMI Connections Recovery Support Group facilitators. We drew upon our experience with the peer support group in our mentoring work. We found that while we made a positive impact with the seniors involved, eight weeks was just not sufficient. We further saw that these mentees had a lot to offer each other and, for many, they could use an expanded social network.
We worked with NAMI Metro Baltimore to start a NAMI Connections group specifically for senior adults aged 55 or older. The support group creates a safe, confidential space for seniors to discuss issues, and to share challenges and successes specific to their age group.
The senior NAMI Connections support group has discussed a whole range of issues including finances, living arrangements, clutter, not wanting to get out of bed in the morning, feelings of failure, grief and illness. Really, it is difficult to think of an issue that has not arisen.
As the group participants are all dealing with mental illness as well as aging, they are able to understand each other and share lived experiences. Healthy aging involves the body and the mind. Depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions are not just part of the aging process, but rather are medical conditions that affect one’s thinking, feeling, and ability to function. The World Health Organization finds that 15% of senior adults over the age of 60 are living with mental illness.
In weekly support group meetings, seniors offer each other practical suggestions and resources. New people coming into the group are immediately made to feel welcome. Each person is given the opportunity to bring up an issue they have been dealing with recently. The other members of the group then share their commonality as they describe ways they have dealt with similar circumstances. This sharing of group wisdom not only helps people become better able to cope with their everyday challenges, it also shows them they are not alone. What they are feeling is often normal for others in their same age group.
As a peer facilitator for the support group, I am often struck by the fact that I get more than I give. My role in NAMI Connections support groups has given me many life lessons as well as aiding me in my path to recovery. Most of all, I feel ‘the same as’ the other people in the support group. I feel accepted and in turn accept the others. Through NAMI Connections, I have found my home away from home.
Sandy Paluzzi has volunteered with NAMI Metropolitan Baltimore since 2007. She provides support to individuals living with mental illness as a NAMI Connection Support Group facilitator, and shares her story of recovery as an In Our Own Voice Presenter.
Attend the NAMI Connections Support Group for Seniors
The support group is free and any senior adult living with mental illness is welcome to attend.
Every Wednesday, 2-3:30pm
The Weinberg Building at Stadium Place
1020 E. 33rd Street, Baltimore, MD 21218
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