Bans during the pandemic made life difficult for many. Aside from job losses, movement restrictions prevent people from interacting in person. The result: higher rates of social isolation, loneliness, and even suicide.
A particularly vulnerable group are older adults who may live alone and are dependent on others for company and support. To address increased suicide risk in isolated older adults, Georgia State University just received a $ 1.3 million grant to send volunteers with groceries to older adults in the Atlanta area.
The US Department of Health and Human Services grant will be used to develop the Belonging and Empathy with Intentional Targeted Aid (BE WITH) project. The project will train volunteers to interact with racially diverse older adults in six metropolitan areas of Atlanta.
“Nutrition volunteers are often a life connection for older adults in the home country and are in a unique position to provide life support when needed,” said Associate Professor Laura Shannonhouse, PhD, in a press release.
“We hope to show how nutrition services can reduce social isolation, loneliness and the increased risk of suicide in older adults by equipping volunteers who are with them during COVID-19 and beyond.”
The project is based on previously funded research led by Dr. Shannonhouse on Metro Atlanta. Her team followed over 51 suicide interventions led by food service volunteers prior to the pandemic. These volunteers acquired and used suicide intervention skills in dealing with those affected.
The BE-WITH project involves training and evaluating volunteers by testing the responses of at-risk adults with whom they interact in real time to see if their interaction lowers depression, anxiety and suicidal tendencies.
Fighting suicide in older adults
Feeling lonely is normal for many people. But physical distancing has made loneliness inevitable for some, especially those unable to leave their homes, live alone, or care for sick relatives. Your vulnerability can increase your risk of depression and suicide. Therefore, it is important that they have access to spiritual and emotional support during this pandemic.
A report from the CDC showed an increase in Covid-19-related mental illness, as reported by around 5,400 U.S. adults in the week of June 24-30. About 41% said they had at least one mental health problem or substance abuse in the past 30 days. About 31% reported anxiety and depressive symptoms. Around 26% reported symptoms of trauma and stress-related disorders, while 13% reported new or more intense substance use. About 11% said they had seriously thought about suicide.
Why the project matters
Hundreds of thousands of families are facing difficulties they may not have faced before. Reduced finances without a stable source of income can trigger stress, which can lead to anxiety and depression.
An article in JAMA Network Open found a link between depression and household income during the pandemic. Around 1,400 US adults took part in a survey distributed by the University of Chicago between March 31 and April 13. The results of this survey were then compared to a pre-pandemic survey conducted by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. It was carried out from 2017 to 2018.
The rates of depression during the pandemic, based on household income, were:
- 46.9% earn $ 19,999 or less per year
- 31.1% earn $ 20,000 to $ 44,999
- 23.3% earn $ 45,000 to $ 74,999
- 16.9% earn $ 75,000 or more
Before the pandemic, the rates were:
- 16.8% earn $ 19,999
- 10.1% earn $ 20,000 to $ 44,999
- 8.3% earn $ 45,000 to $ 74,999
- 4.8% earn $ 75,000
The study, published in the weekly report on morbidity and mortality dated August 14, also looked at the psychological distress experienced by unpaid adult carers. They reported stress or substance abuse 3.33 times more often in June than in May. The likelihood of these carers considering suicide was 3.03 higher in June than in May.
The report authors wrote, “The public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic should step up intervention and prevention efforts to address the associated mental illness. Community-level efforts, including health communication strategies, should be racial among young adults.” / Give priority to ethnic minorities workers and unpaid adult carers. “