Using an Intersectional Framework to Connect Older Adults to Treatment

by Nancy Harvey, CEO

During my 33 years at SPOP I have learned three important lessons about aging and mental health:

  1. Our lives may become more complicated as we grow older;
  2. Some of us are likely to experience mental health disorders in our later years – but we are definitely less likely to have access to treatment; and
  3. Our communities are stronger when our older parents, friends, and neighbors are healthy and independent.

At SPOP we have built an award-winning behavioral healthcare program built on these three core beliefs. SPOP provides community-based mental healthcare to a population that spans at least 40 years and reflects the racial and ethnic diversity of New York. Our doors are open to people of all walks of life – working or retired; grieving a loss or seeking new relationships; barely getting by or middle income.  What they have in common is their age and a need for affordable mental healthcare.

Our goal with each client is to help them rethink any misconceptions that they cannot improve their lives, even when they are confronting ageism, racism, sexism, or homophobia. In fact, stigma and negative stereotypes about aging are among the greatest barriers that adults can face, particularly in a culture that reinforces the notion that depression is a “normal” part of aging or a source of shame, and that older people are unable to change and grow.

Acknowledging these challenges, we have developed an intersectional framework to connect to adults and acknowledge the richness of life experiences, backgrounds, and commonalities with each client. We work with community partners with explicit expertise in aging plus physical disability, substance misuse, being unhoused, financial hardship, or anything else that may affect the well-being of older adults. In this way we have built bridges to diverse communities and connected to individuals who might never find us on our own.

This intersectional framework also helps us to pair clients with therapy groups, which provide social interaction and enhanced support among individuals with shared experience. Our groups meet using telehealth to encourage greatest participation, and they cover such topics as living with chronic illness, serving as a caregiver, managing anxiety, or recovering from depression.

This year SPOP will serve some 2,500 adults in and around New York City through our treatment programs, training, information services, and bereavement support. I feel privileged to be engaged in this essential work.

Posted in Hear From Our staff.