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The impacts of isolation on the mental health of older Mainers, and how to help

Mainers 65 and older are dying by suicide, more than the national average. Experts say that's because of the isolation they feel after the pandemic.

SACO, Maine — Suicide in older Mainers rises every year, and experts say the pandemic has made isolation and depression even worse.

According to the National Council on Aging, the primary reason older people take their own lives is because they report feeling lonely.

When the pandemic started, older adults were told to stay in their homes and isolate themselves as much as possible because it was clear COVID-19 was killing a much higher rate of folks ages 70 and older.

Something else has become clear -- the isolation drove people into depression

"Some people have no one," Rachel Theroux said.

She's homebound and in a wheelchair. She said she keeps herself busy with hobbies and crafts, but she relies heavily on Age Friendly Saco, which provides resources to older Saco residents.

"I probably see more of them than my family," Theroux said laughing.

"We know that with social isolation, the health effects are as serious as cigarette smoking," Jean Saunders, director of Age Friendly Saco, said.

She added that the goal is to keep adults in their homes as long as possible and provide them with a community. 

Theroux says it’s working. But for many older Americans and Mainers, the isolation is just too much. According to American Health Rankings, more Mainers 65 and older are dying by suicide than the U.S. average.

"That’s been a problem anyway for seniors. The pandemic just escalated the problem significantly," Dr. Marc Kaplan from Sweetser said.

Theroux said she would tell older Mainers, don’t be afraid to reach out.

"The only thing I can say is get help," she said.

Kaplan added if you hear your older loved one say make suicidal comments, ask them about it because what might come off as a “joke” could be really serious.

Let's talk about it

Maine Crisis Hotline: 1-888-568-1112

Click here for a list of resources by county

Maine teen text support
This peer support text line is for Maine youth 13 to 24 years old and is staffed by individuals 18 to 24. Talk about your feelings and get support from another young person. Daily from noon to 10 p.m. EST at 207-515-8398

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