Our mental health is vital

Photo by Unison, for Generations 50+

According to the World Health Organization:
• By 2030, one in six people in the world will be aged 60 years or over.
• Loneliness and social isolation are key risk factors for mental health conditions in later life.
• One in six older adults experience abuse, often by their carers.
• Approximately 14 per cent of adults aged 60 and over live with a mental disorder.
• Mental disorders among older adults account for 10.6 per cent of the total years lived with disability for this age group. (2023)

For over 50 years staff and volunteers at Unison have tried to combat loneliness indirectly by building a supportive community of older people.

The pandemic in many ways demonstrated to our team that directly responding to mental health both diagnosed and un-diagnosed in the aging population was crucial. We knew we needed more direct responses both in person and online to support wellness and mental health.

First, let me be clear, the efforts our staff and our volunteers engage in the build community are critically important and by no means will we be reducing our efforts in these areas. If anything, we have plans to double down on them.

My friend and colleague, John works for a community-based seniors serving organization. At times during the pandemic, our members and our users were shut in and isolated. When we met as a group of agencies John would proudly proclaim “we’re saving lives, every day.”

John was right, he knew the impacts of loneliness and isolation on a senior’s health or mental health.
He knew that we needed to be creative and innovative in figuring out ways to keep our community vital and thriving even if our buildings were locked down.

It was during these times that our team started conceptualizing groups, programs and initiatives that would support wellness and mental health.

Our Wellness Connection Centre was born out of this planning. Unison’s Wellness Connection Centre aims to support the mental, emotional, and spiritual health of older adults. Mental health is vital to full body health and a healthy mind will set up an individual for success in their daily life.

The types and ranges of support both online and in-person, offered have continued to grow over the last two years.

I think one of the things I am most proud of our team did in this process is how we made the Connection Centre a reality. Sometimes a charity like Unison may become aware of a need like this, and we may submit some type of proposal to the government and ask for funding to meet the need. Sometimes you can wait a long time to receive this type of support- if you receive it at all. In 1999 we finished construction of the first purpose-built elder abuse shelter in North America.

We knew there was a need, but it took until 2005 to receive ongoing government support to operate the program. Fortunately, our members and our donors helped us fund the operation of the shelter for the first 6 years.

Over the last few years, it has become obvious to our board and our staff that more support is needed for older adults in the communities we operate in. This time we went looking directly for corporations or foundations that had the same passion for addressing wellness both physical and mental in an aging population.

The Auxilium Foundation, Bell Let’s Talk and the Hunter Family Foundation have been the primary financial supporters of our Wellness Connection Centre. If we didn’t have supporters like these organizations who had the vision for continuing to build that supportive embracing community, we would not be able to bring this vital support to more and more older adults in southern Alberta.
If you would like to know how you can support these efforts please go to our website for details on the program and how you can support it.