(Black Press Media photo)

(Black Press Media photo)

Geriatric psychiatrist stresses importance of senior mental health

Dr. Hem Phaterpekar talks hope and healthy living amid COVID-19 pandemic

While COVID-19 has many concerned with their physical health and well-being, psychiatrists, counsellors, and doctors are worried about people’s mental health – particularly for seniors.

The pandemic has caused major disruptions to routines and drummed up uncertainty in daily lives, forcing social gatherings to shrink and human connection to be carried out in a multitude of new and unfamiliar ways.

Dr. Hem Phaterpekar, division lead for Fraser Health in geriatric psychiatry, told the Aldergrove Star that the past ten months have been a lot for anyone to process.

“We saw a similar experience during SARS, but this has lasted a lot longer,” Phaterpekar said. “This is a once in a lifetime challenge.”

Dr. Phaterpekar has been in the field for more than 20 years and heads 15 psychiatrists based at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster.

He said everybody has a need to connect and must make it priority.

“Out of fear or worriment for COVID-19, people – particularly seniors – are delaying coming to their hospital appointments or for medical attention and even for their mental health needs.”

Phaterpekar stressed that these delays will only add to the problem and worsen people’s condition.

He encouraged people to reach out, stay in contact with their doctors and health professionals, and treat mental health in the same way one would treat an illness or physical pain.

“Don’t try to ignore mental health,” he said. “That’s when the risk of suicide or hurting one’s self increases.

The doctor added that he understands that it can be difficult for some people to reach out or receive proper care in a timely fashion; the Fraser Health region overall has seen an increase in people accessing mental health resources.

He advised that there are many small practises people can do to keep healthy and their mind active.

“Eating a healthy, balanced diet can go a long way,” Phaterpekar explained. “Avoiding alcohol, smoking, and other substances are also a good idea.”

Phaterpekar encouraged people to take frequent walks for a change in scenery and fresh air.

He said having a structured day in what many may call an “unstructured time” can also help ease anxiety.

Phaterpekar suggested journaling or writing about life experiences can help be a creative outlet or somewhat of a positive distraction.

“Watch less news,” he added, noting that too much negative information is bound to cause distress.

“Try to take everything one week at a time,” Phaterpekar additionally noted.

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While it may seem obvious to some that a lack of communication worsens mental health, Phaterpekar reemphasized that not engaging with others makes the challenge of mental health more difficult.

“We need to encourage families and friends to communicate more with the seniors in their lives. Give them calls and check in on the more vulnerable,” he said.

Phaterpekar suggested that people send care packages to seniors with activities like puzzles to help ease isolation.

And while there has been an outpouring of support and gifts for seniors in care homes across the country during Christmastime, Phaterpekar asked people to not underestimate the strengths and resilience of senior’s abilities either.

”Seniors have lived through so many different experiences in life, so in one way their longevity makes them more equipped to handle things like this compared to those who are younger.”

He added that there has a recent incline in progress for senior mental health, explaining that there is a lot more base knowledge, awareness, and usage of technological resources like the internet by the 65-plus crowd than ever before.

“Focus on the positives,” Phaterpekar advised. “We are learning more and we have a vaccine. B.C. has done well in their response. I believe we are eight to 12 weeks away from turning this around.”

If anyone does require mental health assistance, Phaterpekar said there are crisis lines and emotional support available.

The Fraser Health Crisis Line provides emotional support for anything causing personal concern, worry or distress: 1-877-820-7444.

Services include mental health assessment, diagnosis, treatment, coping strategies, counselling, caregiver support, response to a report of adult abuse or neglect, linking individuals and their families to community services and resources.

The older adult community mental health program provides mental health consultation, assessment, psychiatric treatment and support to people 65 years and older who are experiencing late life onset of mental health symptoms.

Some symptoms may include memory decline, confusion, depressed mood, anxiety, psychosis or other mental health symptoms that affect the person’s ability to cope with daily living activities.

People can visit www.fraserhealth.ca/Service-Directory/Services/mental-health-and-substance-use for more resources.

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Email: ryan.uytdewilligen@aldergrovestar.com

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