How would you handle an elder friend or relative voicing suicidal thoughts? Would you alert doctors? Would you try to talk them through it? Would you take any action at all? Unfortunately, the majority of suicidal warning signs are largely ignored or belittled, leaving elders prey to their own minds.
In her New York Times article, Jane E. Brody explains that suicide is more common among elders than any other age group. Among those age 65 and older, there are 15 suicides per day, or one suicide every hour and 37 minutes. Although older adults comprise only about 12 percent of the population, they represent around 16 percent of all suicides. What’s worse, 75 percent of these victims had told friends or family about their issues. The most frequent suicide victims are older men, many of whom have lost their spouses, given up on their social lives, and taken to drinking as a release for aggression. Many had poorly planned for these later years in life, leaving them no meaningful engagement or activities other than watching television all day. Suicide is also common among those recently diagnosed with serious diseases or cancer. In this sense, primary care practitioners are crucial in sensing life-threatening behavior. In suicide victims 55 and older, 58 percent had seen their doctor in the last month, 40 percent in the last week, and 20 percent that day. Passive forms of suicide must also be addressed, such as failure to eat or take necessary medications.
In light of this information, here are a few tips for combatting this tragic trend:
- Take the signs seriously – excessive sadness or moodiness, sleep problems, change in appearance, withdrawal, or self-harm. Whether they are subtle, or outright admittance of suicidal ideation, friends, family and practitioners must all take proactive steps in finding proper help for those suffering. It is also important to take special care in circumstances such as recent diagnoses or the death of a spouse.
- In preventing depression, it is recommended that elders structure their days with a routine of activities that provide pleasure, purpose and reason for living. The activities can vary greatly, such as joining a book club, partaking in physical activities at a senior center, taking a course at a community college, or regularly meeting friends for coffee or dinner. Taking up a new interest can also be beneficial in reigniting purpose in one’s life. For example, learning a new language, taking up painting or drawing, or volunteering with a local organization.
- If you are personally struggling with suicidal ideation, a great resource with loads of information can be found here. And remember you can always reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
In essence, it is imperative to remain active and engaged in life throughout old age. In busying oneself with daily group meetings and activities, there is little time to wallow in depressive or suicidal thoughts. Also, speaking openly and honestly with loved ones and health professionals is enormously beneficial.
Suicide has wreaked havoc within the elder population for years, but these recent strides in addressing the issue are the first steps in finding a cure. In adhering to the recommendations of professionals, those held captive to depression and suicidal thoughts can begin to earn their freedom back and enjoy their later years in life. Through open dialogue with loved ones and professionals, this trend can be put in the past once and for all.
Do you have any experience with this serious issue? What resources did you find helpful during that difficult time? How would you recommending helping friends/family members who are suffering? Share with us!