Times Staff Writer
SUN CITY CENTER — It was dark that night. The man sat in his golf cart at the corner of W Del Webb Boulevard and State Road 674.
Dr. Ken Barringer and his wife were on the way out with friends when they saw him.
"We asked what was going on," Barringer recounted earlier this week at a Sun City Center Coalition for Mental Health and Aging meeting.
"He said, 'I'm lost.' "
The man couldn't remember where he lived. After asking for his license, Barringer helped get him home.
The scenario happens more often than most realize, Barringer explained. A group of about 30 listened intently, some shaking their heads during the discussion on mental health issues that Sun City Center residents face.
Since 2005, the volunteer group has educated seniors on mental health issues, while providing referrals for therapy, information about support groups and other services.
On Tuesday, members also discussed initiatives for the future, which also include starting a Sun City Center chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and bringing a mental health clinic to the senior housing development.
"Mental health issues impact one-fourth of all seniors in the U.S.," said Barringer, a retired clinical psychologist. "People are seriously ill, suffer from dementia, have alcohol and drug problems and all sorts of issues. This is a huge number when you consider that seniors are the fastest-growing segment of the population."
The group hopes to help more residents understand that they're not alone.
Among those issues specific to Sun City Center are depression, dementia, marital conflict, retirement, loss of connection to extended families who live up North, mental illnesses among children and grandchildren, hoarding and alcohol and/or drug abuse.
By facing these issues with the community, the coalition wants to address the importance of getting help.
That includes going to support group meetings that can make drastic differences, said Frank Koebrich, the coalition's support group facilitator.
"Our generation is not open to support groups," Koebrich said. "But those who try it get a tremendous amount of relief."
Having some sort of treatment facility within the neighborhood would help so many, especially seniors who don't drive or have transportation issues, said Doris Ragland, president of Good Samaritan Services.
Good Samaritan is a sister group of the mental health coalition and provides residents with Alzheimer's support groups and transportation to medical appointments.
"We can only give so many rides," Ragland said. "We need a clinic here so badly. And what's more, we have people coming in for referrals all the time, and we don't have anywhere to send them."
Barringer said the hope is for a clinic to open in the coming months. Details are still being worked out with the Mental Health Care Inc. in Tampa.
"We are trying to fill a gap," he said, "and it looks like we're getting closer."
Chandra Broadwater can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2454.