This week is Suicide Prevention Week. While we typically think of younger or middle-aged people committing suicide, it occurs at a statistically high rate among the elderly; particularly men. The risk of suicide in the elderly actually grows with the passing years. The loss of physical mobility and ability to perform normal tasks such as driving or isolation and depression after losing a spouse can leave older people mentally weak and vulnerable.
Being aware of the signs of depression and helping seniors to maintain strong social connections are the first steps in preventing suicide among the elderly. First, remember to take talk of suicide very seriously.
For most people, mental well-being increases later in life as opposed to middle-aged people who typically report less satisfaction with life. Suicide by women decreases after age 60, but for men, the rate keeps climbing. Elderly white men have the highest rate of suicide; 29 per 100,000 overall, many of them over 85 years old.
In large part, the risk of suicide by men increases along with pain and depression. The stigma of a man complaining about how he feels and the disease of depression often prevents them from seeking help. Grieving the loss of a spouse can increase a feeling of isolation and a progressive lack of mobility prevents seniors from driving or walking, disconnecting them from society. All of these factors contribute to the rate of suicide in the elderly.
One of the best ways to help seniors stay happy and healthy is to talk to them. Maintain steady relationships and encourage them to open up, tell stories, or play games. There are organizations that reach out to seniors by phone to check on them, but they don’t exist in all areas of the country. The responsibility of regular conversation usually falls on the primary caregiver, and of course on the family.
The loss of a loved one, the inability to move around, and a sense of being totally disconnected from the outside world can be overwhelming for older people. Depression can progress to a point where suicide seems to be not only the best, but the only option available. This outcome can be changed, the end of the book isn’t written yet. Stay close to seniors, ensure that they’re happy and that they’re not lonely. It can make all the difference in the world.
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