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Chatham County’s Streets speaks at first ever statewide conference

Posted Friday, September 5, 2014

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Pittsboro, NC - At the first ever statewide conference on Mental Health, Substance Use and Aging on June 20th in Winston-Salem, Dennis W. Streets, director of the Chatham County Council on Aging, served as one of the opening speakers where he discussed the importance of this often neglected area of service.

At the event, Streets drew from his more than 32 years of experience in the field of aging and adult services in sharing how mental health and substance use are intertwined with other issues that affect the well-being and quality of life of older adults and their family caregivers.

Speaking to more than 300 conference participants, Streets recounted the formative meeting of the North Carolina Mental Health, Substance Use and Aging Coalition in 2011, where he was one of several persons promoting the idea that mental health is just as important as physical health. Serving at the time as director of the State Division of Aging and Adult Services, he had joined others to raise awareness that mental health problems are not a normal part of aging. “I am pleased to see such a large group come together just three years later, but we still have considerable work yet to be done,” Streets told attendees.

Citing from the professional literature and his own experience, Streets noted a number of issues facing our older population and providers of aging services. A few of the major findings and observations shared by Streets included:

· One in five older adults experience one or more mental health or substance use conditions.

· The burden of depression is 50 percent higher for women than men.

· Males consistently have a higher rate of suicide regardless of age, but the rate is highest for men aged 85 and older.

· Homeless elders are increasing in numbers and represent a largely forgotten population. Some chronically homeless adults who are aging face complex health, mental health and substance abuse issues that can complicate securing and maintaining housing.

· The loss of significant others as well as other losses—including mobility, job identity, cognitive sharpness, and hearing or sight—can take a toll on an individual’s mental health. For example, some research has shown depression to be more than three times as likely among persons aged 60 and older who have vision loss as compared with those with normal vision.

· The risk of injury from a fall is greater among older men and women with mental health and substance abuse conditions.

· Mental illness and substance abuse increase one’s risk of becoming a victim of abuse, neglect and exploitation.
In addressing the obvious question—“So what do we do?”—Streets first spoke of the importance of addressing the ageism that still exists in personal and societal views. He suggested that we must recognize and overcome the negative stereotypes of aging that prompt us to discount physical and mental health problems as part of growing older rather than seek to understand and address their underlying cause.

Streets also emphasized the value of the outreach, programs and services offered by such organizations as the Chatham County Council on Aging. He gave examples of the benefits of the Council’s congregate and home-delivered meals programs, the activities offered through its Senior Centers, participation in such programs as Senior Games and SilverArts, the supports available to family caregivers, and the opportunities for volunteerism and staying engaged in the community.

Streets also recognized the contributions of another Chatham resident who spoke at the conference, Dr. Mary Lynn Piven. Dr Piven, who serves as a Clinical Associate Professor of the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Nursing, is responsible for Chatham County having access to an evidence-based depression program for older adults. The program, Healthy IDEAS (Identifying Depression, Empowering Activities for Seniors) for Depression, is designed to help detect depression and reduce its severity in older adults. It seeks to help older adults who have little interest or pleasure in doing things or are feeling down, sad or hopeless—key symptoms of depression.

Streets concluded that mental wellness of older adults is not just an issue for the mental health system; it is a matter that must be embraced across society. For more information about the services and opportunities available through the Chatham County Council on Aging, contact 919-542-4512 in Pittsboro or 919-742-3975 in Siler City, or visit the Council’s web site at<>. For information about the North Carolina Mental Health, Substance Use and Aging Coalition, visit<>.

Debra J. Henzey
Director of Community Relations
Chatham County, NC
Office 919-542-8258 Cell 919-548-4662

In keeping with the NC Public Records Law, e-mails, including attachments, may be released to others upon request for inspection and copying.

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Chatham County’s Streets speaks at first ever statewide conference
Dennis W. Streets, director of the Chatham County Council on Aging

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