Woman overcomes isolation, depression in Tucson community center

Published: May. 14, 2023 at 8:56 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - As Mental Health Awareness Month continues, health experts are highlighting the dangers of isolation amongst older individuals. Here in Tucson, Thelma Dade is just one of many people who experienced isolation after suffering loss but found a path back to being herself at the Optum Care Community Center.

Thelma Dade is a member at the Optum Care Community Center, where almost every day, she spends her time at the center exercising, taking classes and being around other members. But her start here wasn’t easy.

Thelma lived with her mom until she died in 2020. She then lived with her son, who then died the following year in 2021.

“I really didn’t know what to do,” said Dade, “and that’s when my daughter told me to come move with her.”

But having lost two close loved ones within months of each other, she started to lose motivation and interest in doing anything. “I didn’t feel like standing up straight. I was very comfortable slumping over.”

Thelma entered a stage in her life where she was alone. Her routine consisted of sleeping, getting out of bed for coffee, and returning to bed. The cycle repeated itself for many days, and Thelma thought she was fine, but her daughter knew she was isolated and depressed.

“You can almost look at it like an emergency,” said Richard Crislip, vice president of behavioral health at Optum.

“The level of isolation out there among older people, really among all age groups right now, we kind of scratch our heads and wonder why depression and anxiety are increasing so much; it is because of that isolation and that disconnection.”

Long periods of isolation not only affect your mental health but also your physical health. According to the CDC, long periods of isolation increase the risk of getting dementia and even a stroke, along with heart disease and early death.

Noticing signs of depression, Thelma’s daughter pushed her to get out of the house and to go outside, and that’s when Optum became a key role in Thelma’s journey to being herself again. One of her favorite things to do is exercise every day.

“I now park at the very end of Walmart, and walk all the way down, because I can, and I feel good about doing it,” says Dade.

Today, no one would be able to look at Thelma and know the trauma she went through, but that doesn’t mean her hard work goes unnoticed.

Thelma says she is still on a journey of grief and finding herself again, but she is at peace. Before, she was mad at her daughter for pushing her outside of her comfort zone, but today, she thanks her instead.

The Optum Care Community Center is free of charge to everyone 55 years or older, regardless of coverage.

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