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DC Grandparents for Mental Health 
and Friendship Bench DC

DC Grandparents for Mental Health is a movement by adults 60+ years of age in Washington, DC, united in promoting mental health through peer-to-peer and intergenerational conversations and interventions. 

Building on the success of DC Grandparents Against COVID-19, the goal is to provide mental health support to community members of all ages from trusted older people.  

Background

The U.S. is experiencing a mental health crisis that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic—and is only getting worse. The situation is particularly concerning for the Black community, which must also grapple with the negative impacts of systemic racism and pervasive inequality on individual mental health.

Supported by HelpAge USA, DC Grandparents for Mental Healtha group of older adults from historically Black neighborhoods in Washington, DC (who were previously members of DC Grandparents Against COVID-19)have set out to address the crisis impacting their friends and neighbors by piloting a proven model for delivering community-based mental health support: the Friendship Bench.

Friendship Bench DC

Friendship Bench DC is a pilot program of DC Grandparents for Mental Health, supported by HelpAge USA. 

Friendship Bench DC is modeled on the Friendship Bench in Zimbabwe, which was created by Dr. Dixon Chibanda to expand access to mental health by equipping older people to provide care for individuals experiencing difficult thoughts and feelings. Friendship Bench DC will bring the Friendship Bench program to Washington, DC—training the older people who sign up as Friendship Bench DC volunteers on how to deeply listen and empathize; how to detect red flags and make referrals to professional care if needed; and the basics of talk therapy, which is how to help people solve their own problems. 

After training is complete, Friendship Bench DC volunteers will be certified to serve on a Friendship Bench. The first Benches will be set up in safe community spaces throughout DC (e.g., senior wellness centers, community dining sites, faith-based communities) for people of all ages to come visit and find a listening ear starting in early 2024.

Read more about Friendship Bench DC in the FAQs below.

FAQs

Friendship Bench DC provides a way for people of all ages to confidentially share their story with an older person and know they will receive empathy, respect, and understanding. Friendship Benches will be placed in safe community spaces throughout Washington, DC.

There is a mental health crisis among people of all ages and a lack of resources and other barriers to care. The older people behind the DC Grandparents for Mental Health and Friendship Bench DC want to stop the secrecy and stigma around mental health and help others feel less alone. By joining together, they know they can have a positive impact and be part of the solution.

Older people are custodians of wisdom and culture in our community. They are an untapped resource who can provide emotional support or simply a listening ear. Through Friendship Bench DC, older people can give others a sense of connection and personally gain a sense of purpose and fulfillment. The concept builds on the successful Friendship Bench model pioneered in Zimbabwe.

Friendship Bench DC volunteers are participating in evidence-based training by mental health professionals to learn how to effectively listen and empathize with people who are struggling with difficult thoughts and feelings. Successful programs like the Friendship Bench show that laypeople can be trained to help prevent anxiety and depression from spiraling into something worse. During training, a referral pathway is established for cases which are considered "red flags" where a higher level of care is needed. Volunteers who experience any emotional distress when supporting others will have access to free mental health counseling.

A group of older volunteers, called DC Grandparents for Mental Health. Previously, they joined together to successfully encourage COVID-19 vaccination through the HelpAge USA program DC Grandparents Against COVID-19. They have found joy in working together and making a difference.

Friendship Bench DC and DC Grandparents for Mental Health are supported by HelpAge USA, a nonprofit which promotes older people's well-being and self-advocacy, in partnership with the Black Coalition for Health and the Rodham Institute.

No, but volunteers do need to be 60+ years of age. Many older people are like a grandparent to others and can play an influential role in their lives.

People of all ages, from younger to older, will be able to turn to the Friendship Bench DC to tell their story. Initially the focus will be on serving adults over 21 years of age, including older people who remain isolated or in need of support.

A survey will help determine: 1) how many people who talk to a Friendship Bench DC volunteer feel an improvement in their well-being; and 2) how many of the older volunteers feel a greater sense of purpose and connection to the community.

Get Involved!

For more information about partnerships or volunteering with DC Grandparents for Mental Health and/or Friendship Bench DC, please contact us at 202-709-8442 or dcgrandparents@gmail.com.

If you are 60 years of age or older and living in the DMV (DC, Maryland, and Virginia) area, please join us! Let us know you are interested in learning more about becoming a volunteer by filling out the following form.

Check Us Out on WHUTtv!

In this episode of “The Daily Drum with Harold Fisher,” DC Grandparents for Mental Health expert Dr. Gigi El-Bayoumi and participant Grace Whitmire discuss the topic of seniors and mental health in Black America.

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