Suicidality in Older Adults
The topic of suicidality causes discomfort for most individuals, but it is an especially important topic to consider in context with older adults. Suicide, typically as a result of depression, is a significant public health issue for older adults. Although depression is one of the most common mental disorders, it is treatable, so that individuals do not turn to suicide.
As our baby boomer population ages, this group of society seems to struggle with depression more significantly than previous generations. Depression is linked to suicide, and older adults have higher rates of suicide than any other age group, especially in men. In particular, white males statistically tend to have the highest rate of suicide. Conversely, the rate of suicide tends to decrease in women as they age.
In addition to depression, other risk factors for suicide include social isolation, recent loss of a loved one or family issues, a sense of hopelessness and the inability to maintain an independent lifestyle. Finally, previous suicide attempts and access to firearms provide further risks.
Given the serious nature of suicide, prevention becomes a key factor in caring for older adults. To support older adults, caretakers need to heed some of the warning signs and provide extra attention. When older adults experience a significant life transition, such as retirement, move from their home or the loss of a partner or spouse, caretakers need to assist older adults and help them find new social outlets, so the sense of isolation will not be so profound. Keep in mind that even the loss of a driver’s license for an older adult can cause depression and lead to suicidal thoughts. Consider ways to enhance the independence of older adults so that they can learn to cope with their new reality.
Finally, limit access to firearms or other lethal weapons and take precautions to prevent drug or alcohol abuse. Older adults need to know they are not alone despite their changing abilities. Be a friend to an older adult, and you may save a life.
As always, if your loved one is at risk, keep the National Suicide Prevention number posted.