Effective suicide prevention starts with all of us
Older adults make up 12% of the US population, but account for 18% of all suicide deaths. The number rises even higher for those over age 85, with elderly males having the highest risk among all older adults. Seniors have been particularly vulnerable to the psychological health consequences of COVID-19, and approximately half of adults in the United States say that the pandemic has negatively affected their mental health. These are alarming statistics, especially because older adults are the fastest growing segment of our population.
As alarming as these numbers are, elder suicide is thought to be under-reported, as there may be an uncounted number of “silent suicides” like deaths from overdoses, self-starvation, dehydration and apparent accidents. Suicide attempts by older adults are much more likely to result in death, as they are planned more carefully, use more deadly methods, and because the frailty of many seniors means they are less likely to recover from a suicide attempt.
Healthcare providers and senior allies can help reduce these statistics by identifying and supporting psychological health for this vulnerable population.
As many caregivers have witnessed, older adults do not usually seek treatment for mental health issues. However, evidence shows that more than 70% of older patients who die by suicide have seen their primary care physician within a month of their death, yet most of these patients do not seek mental health services.
While these patients may not vocalize their suicidal thoughts or seek counseling or psychiatric treatment, there are a number of warning signs they may exhibit.
Suicide Warning Signs
- Loss of interest in things or activities that are usually found enjoyable
- Cutting back social interaction, self-care and grooming
- Breaking medical regimens (such as going off diets, not taking prescribed medications)
- Experiencing or expecting a significant personal loss (spouse or other)
- Feeling hopeless and/or worthless
- Putting affairs in order, giving things away, or making changes in wills
- Stockpiling medication or obtaining other lethal means
Ways to Help
There are several resources available to healthcare providers who are interested in learning more about elder suicide prevention. The Institute on Aging hosts several conferences, workshops and educational sessions to share information on the identification and treatment of late-life depression and suicide. The Center for Elderly Suicide Prevention and Grief Related Services operates the only 24-hour hotline for older adults in the United States. Their “Friendship Line for the Elderly” at 800-971-1006 provides assistance to depressed, isolated, bereaved and/or suicidal older adults. Another trusted source is the Suicide Prevention Resource Center National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).
Focusing on the psychological well-being of older adults is essential both now and after COVID-19 subsides. If one of your elderly patients needs specialized resources, consider making a referral to your local professional at Oasis Senior Advisors. At Oasis, we specialize in connecting seniors to needed resources right here in our community. Learn more at www.oasissenioradvisors.com or by calling (888) 455-5838.