September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Older adults make up 12% of the US population, but account for 18% of all suicide deaths. This is an alarming statistic, as the elderly are the fastest growing segment of the population, making the issue of later-life suicide a major public health priority.
A person who may be thinking about suicide likely does not want to die, but is in search of some way to make pain or suffering go away. Older people who attempt suicide are often more isolated, more likely to have a plan, and more determined than younger adults. Suicide attempts are more likely to end in death for older adults than younger adults, especially when attempted by men. But suicide is 100% preventable. Get to know the warning sides that an older adult is suicidal.
Suicidal thoughts in older adults may be linked to several important risk factors and warning signs. These include, among others:
- Prior suicide attempts
- Marked feelings of hopelessness; lack of interest in future plans
- Feelings of loss of independence or sense of purpose
- Medical conditions that significantly limit functioning or life expectancy
- Impulsivity due to cognitive impairment
- Social isolation
- Family discord or losses (i.e. recent death of a loved one)
- Inflexible personality or marked difficulty adapting to change
- Access to lethal means (i.e. firearms, other weapons, etc)
- Daring or risk-taking behavior
- Sudden personality changes
- Alcohol or medication misuse or abuse
- Verbal suicide threats such as, “You’d be better off without me” or “Maybe I won’t be around”
- Giving away prized possessions
It is crucial that friends and family of older adults identify signs of suicidal thoughts and take appropriate follow- up actions to prevent them from acting on these thoughts. Suicidal thoughts are often a symptom of depression and should always be taken seriously.
If you or someone you know is experiencing passive or active suicidal thoughts, or has described a plan with intent to act, it is essential that you intervene and get help from a mental health professional immediately. A timely and appropriate intervention can prevent suicide, and addressing issues sooner rather than later often results in better treatment outcomes.