A Clinical Psychologist’s Perspective on Senior Loneliness

To celebrate Letters Against Isolation's six month anniversary, we have invited Dr. Evette Yañez to guest write for our blog.

Dr. Yañez is a licensed Clinical Psychologist who works with seniors in skilled nursing facilities in California. She has witnessed the effects of the pandemic on seniors everyday when she goes to work. In the blogpost, Dr. Yañez will share some of her observations of how seniors are being impacted by the pandemic, and she will explain why your letters and cards make such a positive impact on the seniors.

Dr. Evette Yañez, a Clinical Psychologist who works with seniors.

My name is Dr. Evette Marie Yañez, I am a licensed Clinical Psychologist. I live and work in California and have over 20 years of experience working in the mental health field with various populations & in numerous settings. I have a private practice, where I provide various services including individual psychotherapy, consulting, life coaching & clinical supervision for other mental health providers. I also provide training on mental health & wellness to the public. I have two amazing and fun kids who keep me busy and grounded, two sisters who are my best friends, two loving and supportive parents, and I am fortunate to still have my very spunky and opinionated grandmother. I have a very large extended family as well and I try very hard to balance it all; I enjoy traveling to new places, trying new restaurants, going to plays and movies, however with the current pandemic a lot of that has changed. The current pandemic has changed more than my personal life, it has also changed how I work, at the start of the Corona Virus, now referenced as COVID-19, I was working (and now continue to work) in skilled nursing facilities with seniors, basically ground zero for COVID. My work in skilled nursing facilities allows me to provide mental health services to patients either living in the facilities long term or short term. In my work with seniors, I see a wide range of patients, some with chronic mental illness including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder & other chronic disorders that they have battled for years, to those with adjustment disorders commonly experienced by individuals who enter skilled nursing as a result of being away from their families, homes, friends, and loss of independence.

I’ll never forget the day, March 16, 2020, I was in the middle of a therapy session with a patient in the nursing home & a nurse rushed in & told me I needed to leave the facility immediately. I was both shocked & confused about what was happening. This was the Monday after the CA Governor’s order to shut down non-essential businesses. I knew that my patients had been already very anxious & nervous about the growing COVID concern. I felt so helpless, and I felt like I abandoned my patients without notice in a time when I felt they needed me the most. Pre COVID, I was working in approximately 5 different skilled nursing homes throughout Southern California. I continued to see patients in other facilities in the following weeks, however, one by one I was told to not come back as mental health services were not “Essential.” I went from working in 5 facilities to only providing services in 1 large facility, who thankfully had the foresight to see that patients needed mental health support more than ever at this time, during this global pandemic. By this time skilled nursing facilities had stopped family visits for patients, eventually stopped all social activities, stopped group dining, and limited movement of patients in & out of their rooms and even limiting or prohibiting patients from going outside in general. With all these new restrictions patients began to have a significant increase of depression and anxiety manifested by feelings of loneliness, hopelessness, fear for their own health and the health of their families, disturbed sleep, loss of appetite or increased appetite, gastrointestinal issues, headaches, restlessness, physical pain, and irritability. These symptoms that manifest physically (such as pain and gastrointestinal concerns etc.) but caused by underlying mental stress are called psychosomatic symptoms. There are many studies on the long-term effects of loneliness on the physical body, but since this is not a research post and I don’t want to quote statistics or journal references (plus those are boring), the general findings of these studies are that l