Free counseling for senior citizens fighting depression was featured at Wednesday's Community Resource Council meeting.
Jessica Villar, with the Merced County Human Services Agency, introduced Program to Encourage Active Rewarding Lives for Seniors, or PEARLS. The free program features one-on-one in-home counseling for people 60 and older who are depressed because of mobility issues, loneliness or financial troubles.
"The word 'depression' with seniors is taboo. The elderly don't like to admit they have any issues and don't want free handouts," Villar said. "When I call them, I try not to say depression at all. I say we help them with sadness and loneliness."
PEARLS begins with weekly home visits for six months. Eventually, they're tapered off to once a month. The aim is to help seniors deal with issues in their lives. Villar said clients come to her primarily by referrals from family members. She said medical professionals in Merced refer seniors regularly, but she has not received one referral from Memorial Hospital Los Banos.
Villar said she has three clients in Los Banos, but has had more in the past. She said PEARLS is beginning to see repeat clients, because issues that were not present the first time they went through counseling have begun to crop up.
"A lot of them are widowers," Villar said of her clients. "The loneliness, health decline and financial (issues), those are the top three reasons for the depression in this area."
Villar said a lot of senior citizens have nutrition issues because they do not have money to buy the proper food. She said she refers many clients to programs like Meals on Wheels.
"I know a lot of them are depressed because they don't know about the resources that are out there," she said.
Villar said she also encourages social interaction and physical activity.
"We know a lot of them are home-bound or in wheelchairs, so a lot of them don't really want to, but we push the social aspect," she said.
Villar said PEARLS does have a Spanish-speaking program worker available to help that segment of the community.
For more information about PEARLS or to make a referral, call (209) 385-7550, ext. 4534.
Enterprise reporter Corey Pride can be reached at (209) 388-6563 or by email at cpride@losbanos
Enterprise reporter Corey Pride can be reached at (209) 388-6563 or by email at cpride@losbanos enterprise.com.