When you consider those whom commit suicide, do you consider those in their 70’s or 80’s? I don’t. When I pause to consider this topic, I think of teenagers who don’t feel accepted by their peers and middle-aged men who are in a mid-life crisis or who have had a radical change in their finances.
Wanting to learn more about this issue, I read an article from USA Today (2007) regarding suicide in older adults. The article gave a few real-life stories of suicide in the elderly and I was surprised how often this occurs. Certainly, there are people from every age group (starting with young children) who commit suicide; but for some reason, suicide among the elderly rarely crosses my mind.
I only know one family who has been affected by suicide. In this situation, the father (middle aged) committed suicide, leaving his wife to care for their three daughters (the youngest, only a few weeks old).
According to the USA Today article,
- The “elderly are the highest risk population in the country for suicide”
- Older adults are “less likely to seek help and are more lethal in their suicide attempts”
- The rate of suicide among the elderly is expected to rise as Baby Boomers age.
So what is being done to prevent suicide among the elderly? There are many suicide-prevention programs across the country… for the young. Federal funds have traditionally funded these. There are many fewer programs targeted at detecting and treating depression; on of the leading causes of suicide in the elderly. Perhaps one of the greatest reasons for a lack of suicide prevention programs for the elderly (advocates believe), is a “lack of concern for older Americans”.
(In my thoughts) I hear an argument between two groups fighting for federal funds earmarked for suicide prevention programs…. One group shouts out louder than the other…. Try to save the life of the young! They’ll be here longer! (This is not my personal opinion by the way….) But, it is easy to understand how our society can write off older adults in this particular area; as Americans (in general) place high value on the young.
Wanting to learn more about recent statistics for suicide among the elderly, I went to the CDC (Center for Disease Control). There is a multitude of information on this topic from the years 2005-2009, including differences in race/ethnicity, sex and even the “mechanism” used in suicide. During 2005–2009, the “highest suicide rates for males ages 65 and older were among the Non-Hispanic Whites with 32.37 suicides per 100,000 and the highest rates for females ages 65 and older were among the Asian/Pacific Islanders with 6.01 suicides per 100,000”. The primary mechanism for suicide among all individuals aged 65 and older, was firearms. The only exception, were Asian Americans, who most often chose suffocation.
I remember a case of attempted suicide when I worked in long-term care. An elderly man had a plastic trash bag completely over his head. I don’t recall the exact details of the situation, but I am sure he probably received counseling and a visit from the psychiatrist. Perhaps he even made a visit to the psychiatric hospital. He was probably depressed and very lonely.
This is obviously a very complicated issue. Visit the CDC website for more information on depression, suicide rates among those 65 and over, and suicide prevention strategies. If you have an older adult in your life that you are close to, encourage him or her to share thoughts and feelings. Other people will often share feelings about their life when you are willing to do the same! Remain vigilant about the signs of depression and seek *professional help if needed.
*The older adult’s MD or in a life-threatening situation, the Emergency Room.