Hope, growth, wellness

Volunteers of America – Minnesota provides help to seniors with mental illness

by Gina Purcell

Volunteers of America, a national organization working to uplift lives, has a Minnesota branch that serves much of the Twin Cities with a variety of health services – one including senior mental health.

Golden Valley houses one of several Volunteers of America offices in the Twin Cities.

This location, in addition to Edina, Minneapolis, St. Paul and Coon Rapids spots, specialize in senior mental health.

Volunteers of America began as part of the Salvation Army and was volunteer-based, explaining the origin of its name.

Today the organization is run mostly by paid professionals – 800 of them in Minnesota – with a department reserved for volunteers.

The Minnesota branch started in 1896 and serves to “help individuals build self reliance, dignity and hope.

The organization services people of all ages but its niche is helping those 55 years and older.



According to Director of Senior Mental Health Services Katie Perzel, senior mental health is a common and serious issue but is often overlooked.

One in five seniors aged 55 or older is believed to have mental health symptoms, but only 16 percent of those individuals will seek help, according to Perzel.

Common mental illnesses found in seniors include depression, anxiety and even suicide.

According to Perzel, seniors have the highest rate of completed suicides – a startling statistic.

The senior program at Volunteers of America is working to increase awareness of different mental illnesses and what can be done to manage them.

They aim to tailor their work around common barriers such as stigma, fear of admitting the problem, fear of seeking help, accessibility, physical health and limited clinicians specializing in older adults.

All of the program’s clinicians have several years of experience working with older adults.

Although each older individual arrives at Volunteers of America for a different reason, circumstances such as the death of a loved one, retirement, moving, physical health changes and increased stress are some of the most common.

The organization also works with the families of those seeking help to create an overall understanding and plan to help the senior get to where they want to be.

Unique to the organization is its willingness to make home visits if necessary.

At National Alliance on Mental Illness, Minnesota, an organization that focuses on education, support and advocacy of those with mental illness, Kay King often refers clients to utilize Volunteers of America’s services.

“They offer home visits for seniors,” she said.

According to King it is uncommon that a program offer such services.

King says often times Volunteers of America will speak with individuals over the phone to determine if a home visit would be helpful. The goal is not to continue home care but to make the individual comfortable with visiting one of the local sites.

Another unique aspect of Volunteers for America – Minnesota is that they have senior specific health care providers.

Both Perzel and King agree that all seniors living with mental illness, no matter the severity, can benefit from help.

King says to manage the illness does not rely strictly on medications but also change it diet, exercise and reconnecting with family and the community.

Often mental illnesses can affect an individual’s overall physical health as well.

“Volunteers of America does great job with direct services,” King said. “They are a leader in the senior community for mental health services. We definitely want to get the word out as people age that mental illness is not normal and that it can be treated.”



Older individuals will seek help after they or a loved one notices a change in eating or sleeping habits, when there is a decrease in energy level or interest in doing things.

Those who believe they may have a mental illness and would like help can call the main phone number 763-225-4054.

Individuals will need to share what issues they have been experiencing lately.

Once the organization collects contact and insurance information, the individual should be able to get an appointment within two weeks.

Upon initial arrival, individual’s will meet with a therapist to discuss what the issues are and what the individual would like to work towards.

From there, each treatment is tailored to meet the specific needs of the individual.

Volunteers of America aims to provide the tools and skills necessary to manage any mental illness.



All locations are open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday

• 5905 Golden Valley Road, Suite 100, Golden Valley, MN 55422

• 7625 Metro Blvd, Suite 140, Edina, MN 55439

• 11155 Robinson Drive, Coon Rapids, MN 55433

• 1505 Park Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55404

• 2000 St. Anthony Ave, St. Paul, MN 55104

Info: 763-225-4054.


Contact Gina Purcell at [email protected]