Suicide among older Americans is rising rapidly, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2012 statistics, white men age 85 and older take their life at a rate four times higher than any other U.S. population group. The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy notes that “elder suicide may be under-reported by 40 percent or more.”
Older men are at higher risk for committing suicide compared to older women in part because men in American culture are conditioned to not acknowledge their feelings and may feel more hopeless about the future.
After decades of living, many older adults face loss of control over their aging bodies, finances and living environment. Chronic or complex illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease or cancer, as well as unrelieved pain, can trigger thoughts of giving up on life. Unresolved emotional issues of grief, anger or anxiety, or alcohol or drug dependency can lower one’s coping mechanisms. Many seniors view themselves as powerless to change their circumstances or feel they are too heavy a burden to others.
Warning Signs of Later-Life Suicide
- Depression and lack of interest in once-enjoyable activities
- Withdrawal from social interactions
- Feelings of despair, apathy and hopelessness
- Difficulties in coping with the loss of loved ones (spouse, children, friends, pet, etc.)
- Decrease in self-care, personal grooming
- Refusal to continue with regular medical care (e.g., prescriptions, special diet)
- Getting affairs in order such as updating will and giving away possessions
- Buying a gun, stockpiling medication or securing other lethal means
- Preoccupation with death or apathy over personal safety
Any mention or threat of wanting to die or kill oneself needs to be taken seriously and the senior connected immediately with a mental health professional. Right at Home senior care providers can help improve a senior’s quality of life by providing companionship and helping with daily activities.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers around-the-clock counselors at local crisis centers by calling 800-273-TALK (8255).
What possible suicidal warning signs are you noticing in an older loved one?
An award-winning journalist who has documented stories in nearly 20 countries, Beth Lueders is an author, writer and speaker who frequently reports on diverse topics, including aging and health issues for both U.S. and international corporations.