Suicide and the Elderly

Suicide has become a major concern amongst the older adults of society with the over 65s becoming one of the highest risk groups for suicidal behaviours. In fact, white males over 65 have the highest risk group of all for suicide. In fact, previous studies have shown that, although adults over 65 made up only 13 percent of the population, they made up 18 percent of all deaths by suicide.

This trend may be due to a number of factors such as depression, chronic pain, physical or mental illness, death of spouse, retirement and lack of social networks. Older men living alone and no longer engaged in productive activity such as employment, face a greater risk of suicide than married men or women. Often, it is a combination of all the aging factors that lead them to this end.

When you think about it, elderly couples have often been together for several decades, raising children and living happy lives as a couple. They see themselves as a half of a whole and the death of the other half is devastating. It is not at all uncommon for the spouse left behind to feel that he or she is just not able to live without the other. They may also see death as being reunited with the spouse who has already passed on.

Retirement can also be traumatic, particularly if the person has been in the job for many years. This sudden loss of productiveness and the associated social interaction may leave the person feeling isolated and worthless to society. Sadly, elderly people make sure that the act of suicide will be successful as they are more determined to die. Where younger people are often making a call for help, the elderly have decided that they no longer want to live and are therefore four times more likely to be successful.

There is also a large number of deaths caused by homicide-suicide. In the majority of cases, the person kills his spouse before killing himself. People over 55 years of age account for the majority of these deaths with about one and a half thousand people dying this way each year.

It is important to be aware of the warning signs of suicide in the elderly and to be careful in the techniques of approaching this behaviour. Some signs to watch for may be irritability, changes in appetite, change in sleep patterns, chronic pain or headaches. Of course, these may not be a sign of the person considering suicide and are only an indication. Medical interventions may be all that is needed. The person’s physician can assess them for depression to avoid possible suicidal behaviour.

Depression is a biological mental disorder where people feel sad, hopeless, or lost. They may lose the ability to concentrate and often show significant changes in sleep or eating patterns. Often a person suffering from depression thinks about ending their life and suicide may occur when the person has major depression.

Not everyone gives out warning signals before a suicide attempt. However, most show some form of indication to friends or family members.

If you believe that someone is at risk of committing suicide, don’t take it lightly. Offer the person support and take action to avoid the act. Putting the person in contact with crisis intervention agencies, psychiatric services, or support groups is a great way to start. Become involved by showing that you care, listening to their troubles, and generally giving them hope and encouragement.

If you are a family member or friend, organise other members of the family or other friends to visit regularly. Talk about the happy times, helping the person to recall joyous memories. These acts can help to ward off depression. Being a support system may make all of the difference to the person’s feelings of being wanted and loved and may help to prevent suicide. Feelings can be changed and suicide can be prevented.