There’s an illness out there hiding in the shadows that gets very little attention, an epidemic of sorts that’s easily swept under the rug and left in silence. Our seniors have grown lonelier and more isolated from society, to the point where the effects of such seclusion are revealing spikes in senior suicides. These facts hit particularly hard when we learned that Washoe County’s suicide rate for people 65+ was twice the national average. For those 85+, that rate skyrocketed to four times the national statistics.
Those numbers were shocking and we knew we had to do something. Fast. That’s what gave rise to
The HELLO Project.
In spring 2019, Renown Health, Truckee Meadows Healthy Communities, and the Washoe County Health District combined to submit a proposal to The BUILD Health Challenge asking them to support our efforts to combat isolation and suicide among seniors. They recognized the value in HELLO and we received a grant for $250,000. Working with our partners, we raised another $350,000 to develop this program locally and to eventually introduce it to other states and jurisdictions.
We had to act fast and put a plan in place that would reach out – literally and figuratively – to our elders. Our most effective weapons: a desire to listen and a determination to devise forms of connection and communication with elders.
Loneliness has health effects equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, while the presence of friendships not only helps reduce the risk of mortality or developing certain diseases but also helps speed recovery for those who fall ill.
HELLO is assembling a team of volunteers to extend those forms of kindness that can have profound implications. Even the simple act of saying “hello” helps brighten the day. But dig deeper into our organization and you’ll find the start of programs, such as our It Starts With Hello virtual gathering, and resources that we share with our elders that create a sense of connection for all, and that speaks volumes about our capacity to care.
We have a mountain before us that we, as a community, cannot afford to ignore. We have work to do, kindness to spread, and trends to reverse. And it all starts with “HELLO.”