Impact of Social Isolation Among Older Adults Living with a Mental Health Diagnosis


Risk of social isolation and resulting loneliness becomes increasingly more prevalent as we age, lose friends and family, and navigate chronic health conditions. Situational factors including diminished social and familial roles, together with physical limitations increase the incidence of isolation and loneliness. For individuals living with mental health challenges, the impact of loneliness can be devastating. Isolation coupled with mental health challenges may result in loss of social connectedness and purpose, as well as heightened symptoms and subsequent hospitalizations. Additionally, the prevalence of depression, anxiety, and myriad mental health diagnoses common among older adults suggests that we may be positioned for a large-scale crisis as our population’s median age continues to rise (Valtorta & Hanratty, 2012).


Older adults who experience isolation and loneliness are at greater risk for developing symptoms associated with dementia and cognitive decline as well as physical and emotional manifestations. Loneliness is associated with an increase in sleeplessness, eating disorders, suicidal ideations and attempts (Mann et al., 2017) all of which are associated with an increase in morbidity. Isolation places older adults at greater risk for experiencing elder abuse including: physical, emotional, financial abuse, and neglect. Elder abuse occurs less often when individuals are connected to their families, communities and social networks (Bonnie & Wallace, 2002).


Mental and medical health care providers are realizing the value in prescribing social interventions together with traditional therapies as a means to eradicate the symptoms associated with loneliness. Social interventions may include: continuing education, social day programs and supportive, caring friendships that encourage older adults with and without mental health challenges to remain engaged in their communities. Giummarra et al. (2007) interviewed health professionals together with older adults and found that social and emotional connectedness was strongly associated with overall health while the absence of those connections indicated an increase in physical symptoms.

Programs that provide social support, for example, seek to reduce isolation and loneliness for older adults who are living with a mental health diagnosis by providing companionship; supportive, caring friends are uniquely positioned to act as a catalyst between the individual and their community. Evaluations suggest that the supportive friend model holds value for older adults as a conduit for positive change. The supportive relationship claims to promote social connections that extend beyond the relationship and into the community, thus building a sustainable support network for the individual (Drury, 2014, p. 125-28). Additionally, individuals who visit their program friends regularly are likely to notice changes in behavior, health and/or personal hygiene, all of which might indicate that the person is experiencing a mental or physical health crisis. Social support programs, such as these, may provide training so that volunteers are able to identify potential problems, and report back to the organization for appropriate linkage and referrals.


Caring friends are often in a position to help strengthen an individual’s ties to their community by reintroducing them to activities they once enjoyed, or perhaps by sharing new experiences. Activity theory suggests that older adults who remain engaged in activities previously enjoyed, even with modifications, tend to experience full lives into and through late adulthood (R.J. Havighurst, 1961).


Humans need social connections. Whether they are one-to-one, in groups, or via technology, the supportive relationship aims to encourage personal growth and foster feelings of self-worth. As an option to face-to-face friendships, technology has been introduced as an effective means to communicate with isolated individuals. Telephone support, or “befriending” is a cost-effective tool for providing regular contact and encouragement for isolated older adults. A study by Cattan, Kime, and Bagnall (2010), demonstrated that telephone support not only alleviates loneliness but provides a sense of belonging, lowers stress and anxiety, increases confidence and encourages engagement not only with the caller, but with the community at large. Currently some programs are incorporating the telephone connection component as an alternative or bridge to in-person support. Additionally, isolated individuals may choose to provide support to others and experience the benefits of being a caring friend for someone else in need.


As important as meaningful conversation and relationships, continuing education opportunities for isolated older adults have been shown to increase feelings of self-efficacy and boost self-esteem (Merriam & Key, 2014). The authors stress that continuing education is a human right and knowledge empowers individuals to make critical decisions on their own behalf. For individuals who may be isolated, and perhaps living with mental health challenges, the educational experience can significantly reduce feelings of depression, helplessness, and may indeed promote a sense of belongingness. Furthermore, reduced symptoms can lead to a decrease in prescribed medications, fewer visit to the emergency room and fewer medical issues in general, together with a reduction in public expenditures.


How do we move forward and what can be done? We can be mindful and aware. If we identify an individual who may be isolated and lonely, we can call to let them know that we care, are thinking about them and that they matter. We can continue to support programs that provide caring friendships together with other social programs that address issues of loneliness among older adults and individuals living with mental health diagnoses. We can encourage others to volunteer to do the same. We can advocate for policy change and increased funding for all programs that support older adults with mental health diagnoses. By perpetuating the discussion around isolation and loneliness and that of mental health we can lessen the prevalence of isolation and subsequent loneliness among older adults living with mental health challenges.

This original article appeared in Behavioral Health News, Spring 2019 and can be found by clicking here. Heidi can be reached at 716-883-3331 ext. 314 or by email at 

Celebrating AmeriCorps Week – Part Two

March 10-16, 2019 is AmeriCorps Week. We are proud to partner with AmeriCorps, helping to provide opportunities for members to “Get Things Done.” This is part two of two posts highlighting our great AmeriCorps team members. 

Compeer Buffalo hosts Lindsay Barrett, an AmeriCorps Health360 member serving our Mental Health First Aid program, training members of the community how to identify and support individuals experiencing a mental health crisis.

Lindsay chose to join AmeriCorps for the opportunity to serve others while learning more about something truly important to her. As a member of the Mental Health First Aid team at Compeer she is raising awareness about mental health in Western New York by teaching members of the community how to help someone who is going through a mental health challenge or crisis. She is constantly inspired by the many local leaders who are dedicated to serving their communities better by being trained in Mental Health First Aid.

As an instructor in Adult Mental Health First Aid, she educates individuals on the signs and symptoms of various mental health challenges, creates innovative ways to share the impact we are making with our community. In addition to supporting the Mental Health First Aid program, Lindsay also supports the Engagement Activities that are directly serving clients.

Celebrating AmeriCorps Week 2019 – Part One

March 10-16, 2019 is AmeriCorps Week. We are proud to partner with AmeriCorps, helping to provide opportunities for members to “Get Things Done.” This is part one of two posts highlighting our great AmeriCorps team members. 

Compeer Buffalo hosts three AmeriCorps ABLE members serving our Lackawanna Leaders program, providing group and one-on-one mentoring to middle and high school students.

Malcom Bulls – Lackawanna Leaders, High School

Malcolm Bulls chose to pledge a year of service with AmeriCorps because he deeply believes in giving back to his community. He brings warmth wherever he goes and quickly earns the trust of the youth he works with.

Malcolm not only supports the Lackawanna Leaders program but is known for helping students who drop-in because they are experiencing a crisis or having a bad day. Malcolm has lent support to a young man who is in his senior year, working part time and raising a baby. He encourages another young man who got invited to a prestigious Yale program. He listens to a young lady who is new to the school and struggling to make friends.

When not at the school Malcolm can be found helping at Compeer Engagement Activities, especially at the monthly drum circle making some cool beats along with our friends!

Hannah Kroll-Haeick – Lackawanna Leaders, Middle School

Hannah Kroll-Haeick is a ray of light with the best sense of humor! She has tremendous passion for the students she mentors, often bringing in her own supplies to encourage their artistic side.

She is fluent in Spanish, making it easier to connect with many Spanish-speaking students. Hannah is known for going above-and-beyond, helping teachers in the classroom including Spanish class. She is a loved member of the school community! When Hannah was out sick for a week the students asked about her every day.

Hannah is well known for launching an Intro to Spanish session at our Compeer Engagement Activities, which was a huge hit!

Arwa Yossif – Lackawanna Leaders, Middle School

Arwa Youssif brings the calm and steady on the AmeriCorps team! She can be quiet, but the students have so much trust and respect for her. She spends countless hours on preparing creative group activities to highlight social-emotional learning lessons, such as an activity using cups and rubber bands to encourage teamwork!

Arwa is very dedicated and jumps in to help wherever needed. She has assisted with multiple Compeer group activities and field trips, even getting stuck in the mud with us at a pumpkin farm this past Fall!

Celebrating Friendship – Addy & Morgan

Addy’s anxiety is overwhelming.

The boom of thunder or the wail of an ambulance will bring Addy to tears or send her hiding. She struggles to understand other people’s emotions, making it difficult for her to make friends.

Her anxiety is so profound just last year Addy needed to leave her school to instead be educated at home, a difficult decision for her working parents.

All of this left Addy with low self-esteem and self-confidence.

Addy’s parents learned about Compeer from a friend, and along with her medical professionals decided that it was an opportunity worth exploring.

Compeer had just the friend for Addy. Morgan was drawn to Addy’s spunk and the two hit it off from the first time they met.

“She is a very special and kind young girl with one of the biggest hearts of anyone I know.”

Morgan and Addy spend time together at the park or skating. But their time together is more than just hanging out. When Morgan arrives at her home to spend time together, Addy can be reluctant to go as she wrapped up in a game or other activity. Morgan understands her opportunity to be a role model and to help teach Addy how to be kind and respectful to one another. While she may have been enjoying something else when Morgan arrived, it’s important to honor commitments to one another including the promise to meet at a certain time and spend time together.

They also like to eat tacos. A lot of tacos. By eating out together Morgan has been able to encourage Addy to speak up for herself and interact comfortably with strangers by ordering her own meal and speaking with the wait staff.

While they having fun together, Addy is growing.

But her journey isn’t over. Even after ten months together Addy needs Morgan’s gentle nudge.

In December the Compeer Youth Program was taking a field trip together to see the “Festival of Lights” at the Hamburg Fairgrounds. Addy was excited to go, something she had wanted to do but was too far of a drive for her family. But when she arrived at Compeer and saw the van they would be traveling in with other Compeer friends, she immediately began to worry.

Would she get motion sick on the ride?

She’d never been so far away from her parents.

What exactly were they going to do?

It was too much! Addy was ready to go home.

But Morgan saw this challenge as an opportunity to help Addy grow. Keeping calm and understanding Addy’s concerns, Morgan carefully talked through the step-by-step itinerary of the trip. They would be together on the ride, and together with their new friends they would sing carols and enjoy the lights as they drive through the fairgrounds.

Because of Morgan gently challenging her, Addy was able to settle in and become comfortable with the field trip as planned. Together they experienced a magical night.

“I have seen Addy’s confidence grow…” Addy’s mom shared.

Thanks to Morgan’s friendship, and her training and encouragement from Compeer, Addy has become comfortable enough to return to a traditional school setting.

Celebrating Friendship – Phyllis & Chelsea

Phyllis is an amazing woman.

She is kind, social, adventurous, and always willing to try new experiences and new food.

Phyllis is also visually impaired, making it hard to get around leaving her pretty isolated and quite down.

Chelsea, a physical therapy student, was looking for a way to volunteer in the community and was particularly interested in helping older adults.

After completing volunteer training Chelsea and Phyllis met in December 2016, becoming fast friends.

Chelsea would bring Phyllis to Compeer-hosted events like the Halloween Party, enjoy trips to the apple orchard and outdoor concerts, and attend church or get groceries together.

Over the last two years Chelsea has helped Phyllis to feel less alone which has reduced her feelings of sadness.

“It’s like having a little sister around!” shared Phyllis.

And just as Chelsea has supported Phyllis in her growth, Phyllis too has been supportive of Chelsea and her studies. Even though she would tell Chelsea that school comes first, Chelsea always made time for her friend.

Chelsea recently shared exciting news with Phyllis – upon graduation from her physical therapy program she had received a job offer! Unfortunately, that offer would require her to move out of town bringing their regular get-togethers to an end.

Phyllis enjoys being out and about, and needs to keep active to avoid feeling down.

As their friendship winds down, our team will be working to keep Phyllis engaged in our regular activities and hopefully introduce her to a new friend soon.

Could that be you?


Compeer awarded nearly $2.2M in federal grants

Congressman Higgins and Compeer Buffalo Announce $2,175,000 in Federal Grants for Mental Health First Aid Training and Mentorship Programs


Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) has announced two federal grants awarded to Compeer Buffalo to strengthen their mental health assistance programs. The grants total $2,175,000, and were awarded by the Health and Human Services (HHS) Department’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs (OJP).

The first grant, from SAMHSA, will expand Compeer’s Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) trainings. It awards $375,000 to be implemented over a three-year period in $125,000 increments and will allow Compeer to provide the eight-hour trainings to 2,250 people. This is in addition to the 750 individuals already slated to be trained over an overlapping two-year period thanks to funding from the Peter & Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation, Patrick P. Lee Foundation, PH Collaborative, and Garman Family Foundation. Compeer Buffalo is now the largest provider of MHFA training in Erie County.

The second grant, for $1,800,000 also over three years at $600,000 per year, comes from the OJP’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Compeer was the only recipient in New York State to receive funding through the Department of Justice Multistate Mentoring Program and one of just nine recipients across the country. The funding will allow Compeer Buffalo to expand their Youth Program to up to 10 of their affiliates nationwide. The Youth Program provides mentoring relationships to young people with mental health challenges, matching them with trained volunteers to foster one on one mentoring and friendship.

Congressman Higgins said, “These important grants will go a long way in continuing and strengthening Compeer’s nationally recognized mental health services here in Western New York. They have an excellent record of providing trainings and matching those diagnosed with mental illness with trained volunteers to develop supportive relationships.”

“We care about bringing awareness to the importance of our mental health and reducing the stigma which sometimes goes along with reaching out for help,” Rep. Tom Reed said. “Compeer does a great job at this, and we were happy to team up with Brian to ensure Western New York has increased fair access to the resources they deserve.”

“The needs in our community and nationally around mental health is sky rocketing for all age groups, especially our youth. Compeer is thrilled to have been awarded these two very competitive grants.  The Mental Health Awareness Training grant will allow us provide training to over 2,000 people in Erie county over the next three years who work directly with youth and adults.  Our Mentoring Opportunities for Youth grant will allow us to expand our evidenced based Youth program to 11 Compeer affiliates nationwide thereby serving over 1,000 more youth who need our services,” said Compeer CEO Tim Boling.

Compeer has been a leader in providing mental health services as well as professional training in the Western New York region since its founding in 1973. Compeer Buffalo utilizes the power of volunteer friends to improve the lives of children and adults who are striving for good mental health. Through consistent and caring relationships formed between volunteers and their friends, a sense of belonging, trust and positive self-esteem is fostered in the people referred for our services. Compeer Buffalo is a member of Compeer, Inc. an international organization of 50+ affiliates headquartered in Buffalo, NY.

Coverage on this announcement can be found at the following:

Buffalo Business First
WBFO-FM 88.7
Niagara Frontier Publications

Compeer awarded $374,000 from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to administer Mental Health First Aid training, now largest provider in Erie County

BUFFALO, NY – Compeer Buffalo has been awarded a $374,000 grant to administer Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Over a three-year period, Compeer Buffalo will train 2,250 individuals in addition to the 750 already slated to be trained over an overlapping two-year period thanks to funding from the Peter & Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation, Patrick P. Lee Foundation, PH Collaborative, and Garman Family Foundation. Additionally, this allows Compeer Buffalo to bring their number of trained MHFA instructors to 12. Compeer Buffalo is now the single largest provider of Mental Health First Aid training in Erie County.


This particular grant will target training to veteran’s service providers; first responders; college students, faculty and staff; and WNY area K-12 districts, leadership and other service partners. This is in addition to other MHFA trainings offered by Compeer Buffalo available to the general public.


“The need in our community around mental health has been sky rocketing.  This grant will help us train over 2,000 people in the Mental Health First Aid program.  Those trained will be able to assist those in the community who may be having a mental health crisis and direct them to appropriate support and services,” said Compeer Buffalo CEO Tim Boling.


Similar to traditional First Aid and CPR, Mental Health First Aid is help provided to a person developing a mental health problem or experiencing a crisis until professional treatment is obtained or the crisis resolves. Mental Health First Aid is an evidence-based public education and prevention tool improving the public’s knowledge of mental health and substance use problems while connecting people with care for their mental health or substance use problems. People who enroll in local Mental Health First Aid courses learn a five-step action plan to help loved ones, colleagues, neighbors and others cope with mental health or substance use problems.


Compeer Buffalo currently partners with Erie Community College to train faculty, staff, students and community partners in MHFA thanks to a federal grant awarded in 2015. As a result, 460+ individuals were trained; 61 percent indicated they used what they learned with a student(s) within 90 days of training. More than 85 percent of participants felt equipped to recognize signs that someone may be dealing with a mental health problem, substance use challenge or crisis; felt that they could ask a person whether they’re considering killing themselves; and felt that they could reach out to someone who may be dealing with a mental health problem, substance use challenge, or crisis.


“The Mental Health First Aid Training has increased the level of understanding for faculty and staff when referring a student who is experiencing a behavioral health crisis.   For our students, this training has been an invaluable resource.  It has facilitated in the reduction of stigma and allowed students to have an open and honest conversation about behavioral health as well as increased their knowledge of intercampus and community resources that promote the completion of their educational pursuits.  We are very proud to partner with Compeer Buffalo in this endeavor,” said Erie Community College South Campus Dean of Students Heather Cruz.


The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. SAMHSA’s mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities.


Compeer Buffalo utilizes the power of volunteer friends to improve the lives of children and adults who are striving for good mental health. Through consistent and caring relationships formed between volunteers and their friends, a sense of belonging, trust and positive self-esteem is fostered in the people referred for our services. Compeer Buffalo is a member of Compeer, Inc. an international organization of 50+ affiliates headquartered in Buffalo, NY.



Compeer Superhero Race & Wellness Walk

as published by Step Out Buffalo


Event Category: For a Good CauseHealth & FitnessRuns/Walks/Rides, and Things To Do

Beginning in 1985 as the Run for Brain Research and evolving over time to become the Buffalo Superhero Race & Wellness Walk, the local mental health community has worked hard to increase awareness of, and raise money for, those striving for greater mental wellness in Western New York through this annual event. The event aims to raise $100,000 in proceeds to be shared among two local non-profits; Compeer of Greater Buffalo (Compeer) and The Mental Health Association of Erie County (MHA), for their mentoring and advocacy programs. The Superhero Race is a collaborative effort of providers, consumers, families, friends and caring community members dedicated to promoting awareness, reducing stigma and raising funds to assist youth striving for good mental health, who are served by Compeer and the MHA. The Superhero Race is an annual event that highlights the strength and diversity of the mental health community of Western New York, in addition to offering a premier racing venue for the larger community. In its 30+ year history, this event is projected to be the biggest, and most fun it’s ever been. The last three consecutive years have seen over 1,000 runners and walkers in attendance. Race Day events include 5k run and a 1.8 mile walk, an after party with music, zumba, food trucks, beverages, costumed superheroes, the Batmobile, a kid’s activities tent, a bounce house, vendors and more!

Unleash your own inner superhero at the event, come dressed as your best super hero, whether it’s a popular character, or one you create on your own. Medals are to be awarded for best running times in the race, and there is a $100 cash prize for the overall top male and female runner. Once registered online at participants can raise pledge dollars to help the non-profits reach their fundraising goal. Race organizers are offering wonderful fundraising prize incentives, for both teams and individuals, as well, starting at the $25 pledge level! Check out the race website for more information on these incentives, and prizes.

This event is family friendly, and is one of the most enjoyable runs that Buffalo offers in the summer season! There are registration discounts for teams of 4 or more, and often fun contests leading up to the race. Follow their facebook page ( to stay in the loop on all the superhero fun! As organizers share, most kids need a hero, but the kids served by Compeer and the MHA need a superhero! The youth served live with mental health challenges, and/or may have experienced abuse/neglect and are involved in the court system. Your participation and contributions will go a long way to serve more at-risk youth, and improve their mental health.

Website | Register


Recognizing and Handling a Mental Health Crisis

as posted by

“Since the Parkland, Florida school shooting there has been a high demand for Mental Health First Aid training in our community.  As part of our Mental Health reporting initiative, WBFO’s senior reporter Eileen Buckley attended a Mental Health First Aid session at Baker Victory Services in Lackawanna.

First aid training for medical emergencies can be key in saving a life. But we lack training when it comes to handling a mental health crisis.

Compeer delivers a Mental Health First Aid session in a classroom on the Baker Victory Services campus in Lackawanna.


“Everybody should go through the training at some point in their life.  I know it is a cliche – it can save lives – but it absolutely could,” said Timothy Boling, CEO, Compeer International

Boling tells WBFO News they’ve had a great deal of interest for their Mental Health first aid eight-hour training program, especially for educators.”

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