Laura Newland, executive director, DC Office of Aging and Community Living

June was an eventful month here at the Office on Aging! We’ve loved spending time with you as we’ve kicked off the summer celebrating our city’s diversity in the Capital Pride Parade and our first ever senior Pride party, experimenting with virtual reality and robotics at our Senior Symposium, crowning a new Ms. Senior DC, and hanging out with you and our friends at the Department of Parks and Recreation at SeniorFest!

After all, we’re not just government employees, we’re your neighbors, your friends, and part of your community. That’s what makes DC a city I’m proud to call home.

One of the many gifts of my role at DCOA is how much I’ve been challenged to think bigger about how we can live and love together as a community. I don’t talk about this much, but I’ve struggled with depression. I’m not embarrassed to say that because I think many of you have, too, or know someone who does. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just announced that the suicide rate is increasing in the United States. You may have heard me say during a town hall that recent research shows that loneliness (which is close cousins with depression) has negative health impacts similar to heavy smoking. Mental health is very closely linked to physical health. At DCOA, we talk a lot about physical health, but we don’t talk as much about mental health. Let’s change that.

I know stigma sometimes gets in the way of talking openly about mental health, but the more that we can be open about what we’re feeling, the more we can admit that we might need more support than we let on. Depression is something that many of us experience. For me, admitting that I need help remains my toughest lesson (and one that I’ve repeated over and over). I bet many of you can relate. But here’s the thing — we’re meant to live together in community. We need each other.

We have nothing to be ashamed of, and the more we talk about it, the stronger we get as a community. I hope you’ll reach out to your friends, to your neighbors, to us, and be open to having these honest conversations about mental health. As I often say, DC is the biggest small town I know. I thought I moved to DC to escape small towns, but now I know that I was just looking for the one that fit me. And I’m in an amazingly privileged position to say that we at DCOA want to strengthen and support the best community there is. Know that we’re here for you. You belong here. DCOA — with you.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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