Community forum to focus on depression, anxiety in aging adults

SYRACUSE — SUNY Oswego and Menorah Park will co-host “Aging in Focus — a Geriatric Mental Health Forum” from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Nov. 12, at the Crowne Plaza in Syracuse, focusing on the roles mental health and mental illness play in the lives of the elderly.

SUNY Oswego’s Active Aging and Community Engagement Center (AACE) and the Rodney and Marjorie Fink Institute at Menorah Park for Applied Research on Aging (IMPARA) are co-sponsoring the event, free and open to the public at the hotel-conference center, 701 E. Genesee St. in Syracuse.

“Whether you’re a health provider, social worker, caregiver, clergy member or someone who volunteers or is paid to assist senior citizens in some way, your involvement in this forum will be rewarding,” said AACE Center Director Kimberly Armani of the SUNY Oswego Metro Center in Syracuse. “We all stand to benefit from starting this conversation — family and friends, providers, the community and seniors who will ultimately lead more rewarding and enjoyable lives through early recognition and treatment of depression and anxiety as well as the development of a community network for dealing with these issues more holistically.”

Dr. Stephen Bartels, keynote speaker for the Aging in Focus forum, is a psychiatrist and nationally recognized researcher who has focused on aging and the intersection of physical and mental disorders. He is the Herman O. West Professor of Geriatrics, Professor of Psychiatry, Professor of Community and Family Medicine at Dartmouth Medical School, and Professor of Health Policy at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice.

Additionally, Bartels is director of Dartmouth Centers for Health and Aging, where he oversees the Dartmouth Center for Aging Research, the Northern New England Geriatric Education Center and the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Aging Resource Center. His areas of expertise include health care management, health promotion interventions for obesity in adults with mental disorders, integration of mental health and primary care, self-management, applied use of telehealth technology for co-occurring physical and mental health disorders, shared decision-making, community-based implementation research and evidence-based geriatric psychiatry.

Kick-starting collaboration

Discussion will focus on costs the region and citizens are paying because of untreated or undertreated mental health conditions and a lack of prevention; therapeutic and preventative services; identifying barriers to service and the challenges of accessibility, quality and capacity; and exploring new forms of effective assessment and intervention that can be developed regionally for positive change.

The forum aims to kick-start community development of a regional collaborative infrastructure, as well as methods and strategies for service provision, workforce development, translational research and its application, and holistic integration of mental and physical health systems, according to IMPARA Director Judith Huober.

Potential for change

Geriatric psychiatrist Nanette Dowling also will speak at the event. Dowling, an attending psychiatrist and associate professor at SUNY Upstate Medical University’s department of psychiatry and the research director at IMPARA, will summarize preliminary findings of the collaborative’s ongoing geriatric mental health needs assessment for Central New York.

A panel discussion with a question-and-answer session will feature Dowling and local experts Robert Long, Onondaga County mental health commissioner; Judy Bliss Ridgeway, president of NAMI Syracuse; Chris Tanchak, executive director of Loretto’s Daybreak adult medical day program; and, Kimberly Langbart, a licensed clinical social worker and director of ARISE Mental Health Services.

SUNY Oswego professor and psychotherapist Terrance O’Brien is encouraged about the upcoming event and the potential it has for change.

“Many people think it’s normal to be depressed or have less energy as we age,” O’Brien said. “That’s not the case. We are just older, but there’s no reason we should not be happy and enjoy life just as much as we did when we were younger. Wisdom or despair; it’s a choice we all get to make, and as professionals we need to reframe the way people view this stage of life.”

The AACE Center, one of SUNY Oswego’s research centers, is housed at the SUNY Oswego Metro Center, at 2 Clinton Square in Syracuse. IMPARA is on the Menorah Park campus at 4101 East Genesee St. in Syracuse.

To register for Aging in Focus or to learn more, visit