According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide rates across numerous demographics have been sharply on the rise in the past twenty years. For those aged 65 and over, suicide rates continue to be disturbingly high, with rates ranging between 15.6 deaths by suicide per 100,000 for those aged 65-74, and 20.1 deaths by suicide for those aged 85 and older.
The sad truth is that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and senior citizens can be especially vulnerable if they spend large swaths of their time in isolation. In this article, we’ll be exploring the numerous contributing factors that come into play when an elderly person chooses suicide above the treatment alternatives like talk therapy, medications, or other assistance.
Common Lifestyle Trends in Aging
While other countries like Italy and Egypt are more culturally accepting of seniors living at home with their children until death, here in the US, many seniors experience increased isolation as they age. This can happen slowly, and the detrimental effects of such isolation can have a cumulative effect.
Another important aspect of aging is the routine bereavement that seniors experience, as they watch their friends and family members pass on, leaving them behind. Such repeat bereavement can often prompt the development of some mental health disorders including depression.
Mental health professionals are acknowledging this phenomenon, and they are taking steps to address it. Most senior care centers offer mental health counselling services for their residents, and those living in hospice are often screened for suicidal ideation, melancholia, and despondency on a regular basis. Even still, suicide among seniors continues to be a very complex issue, and more needs to be done to prepare families for having discussions surrounding the topic.
Fading Coping Mechanisms
Hobbies, interests, exercise, and rich life experiences all combine to give a sense of satisfaction in life—at least, they do for most of us. For many seniors struggling with depression, being altogether removed from situations that involve these things can make it difficult to find pleasure in being alive at all.
It’s clear that living in isolation is a large contributor to feelings of disconnection. And, when human beings grow increasingly disconnected from others, they’re more likely to experience depressive episodes.
Human interaction is needed for those who are dealing with the mounting stressors of older age. For this reason, organizations like Aging Resources of Douglas County work to provide seniors with ready access to community resources that can keep them engaged with life, offering them opportunities to continue learning and to continue connecting with their fellow human beings.
Identifying the Signs of Suicidal Thinking
While there is no single cause for suicide among any given demographic, there are many common emotions and experiences that are a common thread among those seriously contemplating suicide. This goes for younger individuals as well as senior citizens living in isolation.
It’s critical to know what the signs of
suicidal thinking are and how to take action to help someone who might be
Many healthcare professionals in aged care facilities are trained to detect certain telltale speech or behaviors among seniors—speech and behaviors that could indicate a mounting struggle with suicidal thinking. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention urges us to be aware of the following warning signs:
- Speaking about feeling hopeless, not having a clear reason to stay alive, or feeling like a burden to friends and family
- Sharply increasing drug or alcohol use, especially at a time following bereavement or a significant life change
- Saying ‘goodbye’ a lot, or making suggestions that the person may not be around for much longer.
- Giving valuables, money, or sentimental possessions away without a real reason, indicating that the person might be distributing their assets to others in preparation for commiting suicide.
If someone appears to be exhibiting any of these behaviors, it is highly advised that they be given prompt medical attention. The good news is that depression with suicidal ideation can be treated, and there are thousands of mental health professionals working hard every day to bring seniors back from their brink of desperation.
With the right mental health resources, compassion, and hope for a brighter tomorrow, seniors that are experiencing isolation as they age can find light among the darkness.