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Social Activity for Mental Health

By Tracie Isaac
tracieisaac@minorityreporter.net

Photo courtesy of Martha L. Hope.

National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month is being observed in the month of July according to the Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Minority Health (OMH).

According to the OMH website racial and ethnic minorities often suffer from poor mental health outcomes due to the cultural stigma and lack of access to mental health care services.

Recognizing mental health issues should be among our individual health checklist. It is reported that symptoms and conditions of mental health are sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, isolation, loneliness, poverty, trauma and depression.

With the onset of COVID-19 many people experienced extreme levels of isolation, loneliness and depression.

When mental health issues are not addressed individuals may seek self-medication such as alcohol or drugs, leading to fatal results such as overdosing and suicide.

There are local organizations, resources and health care services partnering to address mental health among minorities.

Senior Expressions, Inc. is a local organization founded by Martha L. Hope, a resident and community advocate who decided to create a new way for minority adults and seniors to address social and mental health issues.

After retiring from the Monroe County Department of Health and Social Services, raising six children (five were adopted) with her late husband, a community activist and child advocate, a founding member of Christian Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Henrietta, NY and currently a Trustee, as well as a member of various non-profit organizations, Ms. Hope decided that she wanted to do more. She obtained certification in Research Studies and Human Research Social Behavioral Educational Research with the University of Rochester with a focus on seniors and mental health. Additionally, she created and produces a radio show “Real Talk with Martha Hope” which allowed her to create topics for discussion with experts and guests, and interaction with the listeners under a tagline of Real Talk, Real Health, Real People.

Drawing upon her life experience, Ms. Hope structured Senior Expressions, Inc., as a non-profit organization that partners with local health services and resources such as UofR Geriatrics Mental Health, UofR Neurology, UofR Aging Institute, LifeSpan, Common Ground and Elite Care, just to name a few, to address the growing concerns of mental health in the local community.

“As human’s we need social interaction and physical connections to help curtail mental health issues,” said Martha Hope, Founder of Senior Expressions.

Utilizing available studies and focus group information, the top issues of mental health concerns are isolation and depression. To address these concerns during the pandemic, virtual gatherings allowed individuals to communicate in groups to discuss their concerns. Additionally, many of the senior community contributed their concerns and wanted to find ways to meet and interact with new people.

Information obtained from surveys and focus groups helped to inform the health partners and Senior Expressions organizers of topics related to the participant’s quality of life and ideas of creating activities to help bring people together.

To connect directly with larger groups of individuals, Senior Expressions organized programs for local housing facilities where presentations with partner organizations were held to provide information and resources to the residents. Past activities included bus trips, cruises, workshops, healthy dancing as an exercising method, healthy eating, and nutrition workshops with FoodLink and more. “Nutrition and healthy eating play a major role in health issues, brain and emotional health,” stated Hope.

In 2021, Senior Expressions produced three events, a local Erie Canal Cruise, the 1st Annual Senior Ball which was held at the Harro East Ballroom, and a bus trip outing for shopping and a tour of the Festival of Lights on Onondaga Lake. These activities were very successful in bringing together people who wanted to get out and be socially active. The “sold-out” cruise offered refreshments, games, activities, and partner organizations who provided information and giveaways. A unique spin on the Senior Ball consisted of a program to help attendees connect with new people and resources through networking, resource vendors, games and prizes, live music and comedy, dinner and dancing. Additionally, a local photographer was on site to capture the memories for the attendees to take home

Surveys and a “Suggestion Box” from the events and programs provide feedback on the workshops, activities and requests for social events. Additional program topics presented on senior housing concerns and needs, learning and using new technology, food access programs and more.

Senior Expressions is continuing their most anticipated social activity, the 2nd Annual Senior Ball taking place on Saturday, August 13, 2022, again at the Harro East Ballroom.

This edition of the theme “A New Attitude” offers new activities and a guest speaker, New York State Senator Samra G. Brouk, Chair of the Committee on Mental Health. Additionally, the following local seniors are being honored for their community contributions: Carolyne & James Blount, About Time Magazine Publishers; Evelena Lee, a 93-year-old Community Activist and organizer of the local “Crop Walk and a current Marathon Runner; Luvert Walker, member of US TOO Men’s Prostate Cancer Foundation; Rodney A. Young, Coordinator for United Way African American Leadership Development.

“I’m working to change the stigma of seniors and minority mental health. Seniors are still viable, and we need to help each other by connecting and choosing to address our mental health,” stated Martha Hope.

For more information about Senior Expressions contact marthahope9@aol.com or call (585)200-8402.