Changing The Mental Health Stigma: “Seeking Emotional Support Is Not Weakness, It Is Intelligence”

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“I don’t preach God, but I am a God person, and I know that if it wasn’t for a series of divine interventions that seemed to take place one after another there is no way that our organization could ever have come to be!”  — Pat Hayes 

Pat Hayes knew she was doing the right thing, but that didn’t do much to calm her fears. Her dream kept driving her, yet there were so many obstacles to overcome. Still, the need for a not-for-profit mental health organization, especially in one of the largest retirement communities in the country, was undeniable.  

“All of us who live in The Villages are at an age where bad things happen,” she explained. “And there just weren’t enough psychiatrists, psychologists, or psychotherapists and I knew in my heart that I was being called to start something.” 

What she wanted to start was unique, equal parts obvious and brilliance. Why not, she thought, call upon the many social workers, counselors, psychologists and therapists who retire to The Villages, Florida and ask them to volunteer their services, at no cost, to those who need it?  

Many who could benefit from mental health counseling never seek it. One of the barriers is the stigma of being broken, needing emotional support. Another is not being able to afford it. Hayes’ plan was to offer it at no cost. There was just one big problem.  

“The challenge of securing funding seemed insurmountable,” she said. “I asked God if I should give up and I prayed about it. Soon after, I was put in touch with the United Way. They stepped right up to help, and TLC Services was off and running!” 

Transition Life Consultants Services offers educational programs, group therapy, and individual counseling for those struggling with loneliness, grief, depression and more. TLC served 3,000 people last year and with more exposure, and more volunteers, they hope to reach even more. 

“Too many of us neglect our emotional health, especially as we age,” said Hayes. “Yet, most of us in The Villages have moved from where we lived for decades. We’ve left family, friends and careers behind. At worst it can be traumatic and at best it is a major adjustment. Seeking emotional support is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of intelligence. TLC Services makes it possible to reach out in an informal, affordable way.” 

Hayes’ organization is being looked at as a blueprint that can be followed in retirement communities everywhere.  

“It is a program that can be replicated,” said Hayes. “You know, if I wasn’t 77 years old, I would be out there replicating it everywhere I could. It can be a game changer in the field of mental health.” 

More than anything she wants people to know there is always hope. “There are so many people who need a little help, and many wonderful volunteers with a desire to offer it,” she said. “My hope is that TLC Services can be the bridge to make that connection.” 

This article is featured in the January 2023 issue of The Growing Bolder Digital Digest.

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