Older adults who seek mental health services often face an uphill battle.
Insurance coverage is woefully inadequate, services are delivered in
mental health centers and not in an individual’s home or community, and
providers are insufficiently trained in mental health and aging issues. In
New York, a new law was recently passed to reverse these harmful
|“This landmark legislation
will prepare for the vast
increase of the number of
Americans 65 and older
over the next 25 years, from
35 million to 70 million, and
the consequent growth of
older adults with mental
disorders from 7 million to
14 million. Approximately
800,000 of these seniors will
reside in New York state.”
—Giselle Stolper, executive
director, MHA of New York City
Last summer, New York Gov. George E.
Pataki signed into law the Geriatric
Mental Health Act. It’s the first bill of its
kind in the country to help meet the
growing mental health challenges of older
The law recognizes the need for
innovation in meeting the unique mental
health needs of older adults by providing
- Services demonstration grants that
are designed to foster new approaches
to help older adults live in the
community; to improve access to, and
quality of, mental health services; to
integrate mental health, physical health and aging services; to
increase the capacity of the mental health system to serve cultural
minorities; to enhance caregiver supports; and to build a clinically—
and culturally—competent workforce.
- Interagency planning processes that will foster the integration of
mental health, physical health and aging services, which is critical for
effective service delivery for older adults.
The MHAs of New York City and of Westchester worked tirelessly to
ensure the law’s passage. Together, the two MHAs created the Center for
Policy and Advocacy in 2003 under the direction of Michael B. Friedman,
a leading mental health policy expert. The Center mobilizes stakeholders
and provides visibility and leadership to help move mental health issues
to the top of the state’s political agenda. In 2004, the Center established
the Geriatric Mental Health Alliance of New York, which has grown into
a network of more than 800 individual and organizational members.
The Center is working to see that legislation similar to the New York law
is passed by legislatures throughout the country. In fact, staff from the
Center recently traveled to North Carolina to strategize with the state
MHA there on ways to build an effective mental health and aging
coalition, with the ultimate goal of enacting a North Carolina version of
the Geriatric Mental Health Act.
For more information about this effort and to learn how to get your state
involved, contact the MHA of Westchester at 914-345-5900 or the MHA
of New York City at 212-254-0333.