Empath Health offers free COVID-19 grief counseling for seniors

Justin McClain, a therapist with Home Again Counseling and Stacy Orloff, Empath Health Vice President of Innovation & Community Health

By LaShante Keys, Empath Health Community Outreach Specialist

PINELLAS COUNTY — Over the past eight months, many aspects of life have changed. Navigating this new world has illuminated things that were perhaps taken for granted before. Of those, the need to grieve and find closure after the loss of a loved one has been profound.

For many people, especially seniors, the grief process has become complicated. In the past months, there have been little or no visits to hospitals or nursing facilities. Funerals or gatherings to remember loved ones have been greatly limited or postponed. Without the comfort of tradition, and compounded with feelings of isolation, mental health can suffer.

“COVID-19 has caused disruptions in our routines and led to an overall increase in anxiety and fear for everyone,” explained Justin McClain, LCSW, therapist with Home Again Counseling. “The impact on vulnerable populations, such as senior citizens, has been even more pronounced.

“Following CDC guidelines for COVID requires social distancing. Research shows that isolation from others increases feelings of loneliness which in turn leads to a rise in depression and anxiety.”

Additionally, some studies have shown that a sense of community support is an especially important aspect of bereavement for African Americans. Those who spend less time talking about their grief experience with others are more likely to have complicated grief symptoms, such as numbness, intense sorrow and extreme focus on or excessive avoidance of remembrances of their loved one.

“It’s important to remember being physically distant does not mean you have to be emotionally distant,” added McClain.

Recognizing the need to support those who are struggling, Empath Health is offering free mental health counseling sessions for Pinellas County seniors impacted by COVID-19 or its effects through a generous grant from Pinellas Community Foundation Senior Citizen Services.

“The inability to be together with community is very difficult,” said Stacy Orloff, EdD, LCSW, ACHP-SW, vice president of innovation and community health at Empath Health. “For just about all of us, it’s very important to have closure. Our faith systems and even nonreligious beliefs have some sort of ritual attached to them so we can say goodbye in our own way.”

While we are unable to gather with our community, talking with a grief counselor or being a part of a support group can provide a needed outlet for talking through the grief process. To best fit each person’s needs, sessions are available in-person or virtually, as well as individually or in a group setting. Individuals can attend as often as needed.

“Grief and loss are not the same for everybody. Our services are tailor-made for each client we serve,” added Orloff. “It’s a sign of strength to say to somebody I need a little bit of help.”

To qualify for the free counseling sessions, individuals must be age 55 or older, live in Pinellas County and have their grief affected by COVID-19 somehow.

Individuals interested in speaking to a licensed and trained counselor are invited to call Empath Health Community Counselling at (727) 523-3451.

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