Summit County’s seniors lean on each other as pandemic presents mental health challenges |

Summit County’s seniors lean on each other as pandemic presents mental health challenges

Sara Hopkins, chef and kitchen manager at the Summit County Community and Senior Center, prepare food to be be delivered as part of a meals-on-wheels program.
Photo by Jason Connolly

While the novel coronavirus pandemic is isolating for everyone, there’s no doubt that it can be especially lonely for people who are over the age of 65.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, seniors across the country have been told to isolate, as they are at high risk of having a severe illness as a result of the virus. The loneliness as a result has been a challenge for people’s mental health, said Jen McAtamney, executive director of Building Hope Summit County.

“In our community in particular we have a very healthy, active senior population,” she said. “But all of a sudden they were confronted in the first time in their lives, really, (that) ’oh my gosh, my health is (compromised)’ … those things all contribute to poor mental health when you’re in isolation.”

McAtamney added it’s even more difficult for people with comorbidities, or conditions that would be deadly when combined with the virus, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Even with all of these experiences, Summit County seniors only make up just 15% of Building Hope’s clients, she said.

“There’s more stigma for them around mental health conditions,” she said. “So they’re less likely to seek care.”

Cathy Sapp, a member of the Summit County Community and Senior Center’s board of directors, said she’s ready for the pandemic to be over.

24-hour crisis help

• Colorado Crisis Services: 844-493-8255 or text “talk” to 38255

• For life-threatening emergencies, call 911

“I am so over it and so is a big group at the community center,” she said. “We are so past all the things we can’t do, which is our Monday night dinners. We have to do bridge on line, we’re doing book club online. Everything is online.”

Aside from some outdoor activities over the summer, the senior center has had to limit in person interactions throughout the pandemic. However, the center’s volunteers and employees have been working hard to keep the community connected and check in on everyone who needs it.

Jenniffer Gonzalez, the center’s care navigation coordinator, said she and the center’s board members have been making regular calls to local seniors to check in and answer questions.

“(The pandemic) has impacted them immensely because they are not able to do what they used to do,” she said. “It’s a confusing time for them because everything is limited.”

The center has also been offering a monthly newsletter, Zoom events and daily Meals on Wheels deliveries throughout the pandemic. Sapp said even the ability to connect with other people her age during this time is valuable.

“I get to laugh out loud. I get to hear somebody else’s voice,” Sapp said. “It’s good to have that voice coming into your ear other than the TV or the talk radio shows.”

A box of newsletters sits outside of the Summit County Community and Senior Center on Friday, Dec. 18. The senior center has been issuing newsletters to help inform and connect the community during the pandemic.
Photo by Libby Stanford /

While the activities provided by the senior center are able to help provide connection, it can still be anxiety inducing to be a senior right now. For that reason, Building Hope and the senior center have been working closely to inform the senior population about mental health resources in the county.

Building Hope offers a scholarship to people who are unable to afford mental health care. The nonprofit also hosts connectedness events, which McAtamney said is another way to help improve spirits during this time. The first step for anyone in Summit County seeking mental health care is to visit and click on “get help.”

“Don’t let fear of stigma around it prohibit you from getting the help you need,” McAtamney said. “Everyone deserves help and the sooner you get it, the better.”

Mental health resources in Summit County

Emergency contacts

911Colorado Crisis Line: call 844-493-8255, text “TALK” to 38255 or chat at ColoradoCrisisServices.orgNational Suicide Prevention Lifeline: call 800-273-8255 or chat at

Nonemergency contacts

Mind Springs Health: 970-668-3478 or MindSpringsHealth.orgColorado Crisis Line: ColoradoCrisisServices.orgSafe2Tell: 877-542-7233, or download the Safe2Tell app to make a reportBuilding Hope: BuildingHopeSummit.orgSummit Community Care Clinic: 970-668-4040,

Summit School District psychologist contacts

Summit High School: Anna Howden, anna.howden@summitk12.orgSummit Middle School and Snowy Peaks: Anita Ferrell, anita.ferrell@summitk12.orgUpper Blue, Breckenridge, Silverthorne and Frisco elementary schools: Audra Larcom, audra.larcom@summitk12.orgSummit Cove and Dillon Valley elementary schools: Robin Ackermann,

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