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Suicides among elderly prompts push to end loneliness

Posted at 2:03pm Monday 01 Jul, 2019

A spate of suicides among the elderly in Mangawhai has sparked a new initiative to combat social isolation and loneliness.

The Te Whai Sages Senior Support service was launched by the Te Whai Community Trust last month, after several social agencies, including Te Whai, noted that a lack of support for senior citizens was a major social problem in the area.

Trust services coordinator Kiri Eriwata says the launch event, held at Jessie's Café at the Mangawhai Museum on June 19, brought together senior service providers from around Northland, including Age Concern, Geneva Healthcare, Coast to Coast Health Care, NorthAble, Alzheimers Support, Sports Northland and the police.

“The event brought a wealth of knowledge and experience together in one place, encouraging more connection and support across all senior services,” she says.

Attendees wrote a message of aroha on feathers to create a cloak. The messages reaffirmed the value of elders to the community and encouraged them with positive messages.

Te Whai now has 12 volunteers training to become a Te Whai Sage.

The sages will provide a range of activities and support for the elderly, such as companionship, outings, shopping assistance and special events.

In addition to decreasing isolation, the new service will aim to increase knowledge of the rights of older people, assist grandparents parenting grandchildren, provide extra support for widows and widowers, and combat depression.

The trust notes there is strong evidence linking isolation with depression and that older people have one of the highest suicide rates in New Zealand.

Te Whai plans to use its sages programme as a model for further services to other vulnerable groups in the community, such as young families and those with special needs.

Currently, the trust operates from the old school house at the Pioneer Village next to Mangawhai Museum, but it ultimately hopes to establish its own community centre as a base for social services. 

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