Douglas County needs more money to provide adequate mental health care to its growing elderly population, a former mental health official said this morning.
The problem isn't that treatment and counseling programs don't exist, said Margaret Hopkins, former coordinator of caregiver support services for Douglas County Senior Services. The difficulty comes with how the care gets to those who need it.
Most often, people will seek help only if urged by an authority figure, such as a doctor or member of the clergy, she said.
"If a neighbor says it, or if a family member says it, it's `No way,' " Hopkins said today. "They say, `I'm not crazy,' and they don't seek help because there's such a stigma attached."
Increasing budgets for senior services and Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center would help officials reach out to elderly residents who need help, she said.
Hopkins spoke at a meeting Wednesday afternoon sponsored by the Kaw Valley Chapter of the Older Women's League. About 30 people attended the meeting in the Lawrence Public Library to discuss the mental health needs of elderly citizens.
Hopkins said there were several local outlets for mental health counseling for seniors suffering from various forms of dementia. Providers include Bert Nash, Catholic Social Services, Christian Psychological Services and Kansas University.
Problems arise, however, when it comes to payment, she said. Medicaid requirements often are too complicated or restrictive, and private insurance companies are reluctant to provide reimbursements.
Currently about 2,700 people suffer from dementia in Douglas County, Hopkins said. Another 3,500 people act as caregivers, providing patients in-home help for bathing, getting dressed, cooking meals and making doctor's appointments.
Caregivers need help too, she said. Counseling them can help keep Alzheimer's disease patients and others from needing expensive care from state social service agencies.
"Most of them need a sense of control, and mostly that comes through a sense of control of your own emotions," Hopkins said.
Hopkins resigned from her position July 9 to return to school and continue work towards a master's degree in social work from KU.