Old age suicide – a major concern
Suicide is a growing problem and an issue of grave concern. I have been through it first hand and you never think suicide can happen to you or in your family. Old age suicide in the elderly population is increasingly becoming a common problem. Forcing us to think over and over again, about the ways we can prevent it. According to data from the American Association of Suicidology. The white males aged 85 years and above are at the highest risk of committing suicide. The same association revealed that over 5,404 cases of suicide happen to the aging 65 years and above. Furthermore, various data sources also state. Elderly men are more likely to commit suicide than elderly females. The reason being, young women are more prone to take such extreme steps. Once they have dealt with the various stages and levels of stress, anxiety, and pressure. They seem to handle the stress of old age. But, men get depressed in old age and are unable to survive the burden of diseases, loneliness, disability, social isolation, etc.
Why is senior suicide such a problem? – The risk factors
Time and again we keep hunting for answers, to try and understand those factors, which must have compelled our seniors to take such a drastic step. The various risk factors for aging suicide include the following:
- Being bedridden or severely disabled
- Retired elderly men who resort to alcohol or heavy drinking
- Suffering from chronic painful illness
- Psychiatric illness
- Social isolation
- Loss of independence
- Suicide ideation
More crucial factors identified by experts:
- The fear of becoming a burden on others due to physical illness.
- The fear of losing independence accompanied by the inability to do things on their own.
- Social disconnection, either due to change of place or retirement from work or even physical illness.
Depression and senior suicide
More often than not, we make the mistake of assuming depression as a common accompaniment of old age. With the various changes in the body and organ functioning. Along with significant changes, one undergoes in personal and professional life. We think that elderly depression is bound to happen. Somewhere, we seem to take depression in our elderly for granted. But, little did we know, that depression in the elderly can get dangerous if not treated and addressed on time.
Various studies have pointed out a clear connection between depression and suicide in our elderly. The inability of our older adults to adjust is one of the various causes of senior suicide.
This includes several mental disorders.
- Anxiety disorders
- Depressive disorders
- Brain function disorders
- Schizophrenic disorders.
The recent reports and statistics show it can be clearly stated that suicide due to major depressive disorder is on the higher side. According to data published in 2015, the second highest suicide rate occurred in elderly individuals aged 85 years and above. All these statistics only point towards the fact that, depression is treatable and we need to help our elderly speak up their minds, in order to offer help at the right time. However, the reality is that depression is often viewed as a character weakness, then a major illness, which prevents our elderly from seeking medical assistance.
Warning signs of suicide in the elderly
In order to prevent further incidence of suicide in the elderly population, it is necessary that we understand the warning signs of suicide in the elderly. The following list speaks of the various warning signs of suicide in the elderly:
- Loss of interest in various activities that one used to enjoy earlier
- Self-neglect, in terms of personal grooming and medical care
- Not taking an active interest in social interaction
- Feeling of hopelessness
- Crying for no evident reason
- Losing weight due to loss of interest in food
- Depressed or sad mood
- Giving away personal items
- Increased dependence on alcohol or other drugs
- Experiencing a major loss or expecting to experience one
- Talking about death
Noticing any of the above-mentioned signs, then you need to follow certainly do’s and don’ts:
Some of the Do’s
- Take your elderly loved one seriously and DO ask them whether they are sad or depressed or if some grave issue is bothering them.
- Go ahead and DO ask them directly whether they are planning a suicide. Chances of getting a direct and honest answer are high if you ask them directly. However, you might be afraid and apprehensive about asking them such a question directly; but don’t worry as your asking them would certainly not cause your elderly to actually commit suicide.
- Once you know their intentions, DO talk to them and ask them to seek professional help for depression and other medical issues.
- DO ensure them that you are there for them and that they still need to value their life.
- Lastly, you need to take the necessary steps and remove items that may harm your elderly.
- Keep a close watch on your elderly (if possible) and spend time with them.
Some of the Don’ts
- Don’t act shocked. Being shocked is natural, but don’t let your elderly sense it.
- Don’t argue with your elderly that suicide is certainly not advisable and please do not give them long lectures on the value of life.
- Don’t keep this a secret. Seek help from professional agencies or experts that can help prevent suicide.
If you are not prepared, life does become difficult as we age. The increasing burden of disease, coupled with the weak body, loss of partner and retirement from work, all can make our elderly gloomy and depressed. Adhering to such an extreme step may seem irrational to many, but does make sense for our elderly, as they are no longer capable of living their life.
Preventing elderly suicide
According to the Institute of Medicine, suicide prevention should target at different levels and different stages of suicidality. This works under 3 different categories, targeting different types of the elderly population:
- Universal prevention – This type aims to reduce the risk of suicide in new cases, by skill enhancement and information.
- Selective prevention – This type focuses on high-risk groups, which usually do not showcase any signs of suicidal intentions, but at the same time are extremely vulnerable to commit suicide. Such high-risk groups include those, who have experienced loss of a partner or other person, retired, elderly suffering from chronic illness or those who are highly disabled.
- Indicated prevention – This is for those individuals, who clearly demonstrate signs of committing suicide. Candidates for indicated prevention include those elderly who are suffering from a psychiatric illness or those who have clearly expressed their desire to die.
Recognizing the warning signs is usually the first step to prevent suicide. Here are certain take-home points, that can help you prevent suicide in the elderly:
- If you have the slightest of doubt, that your elderly is planning some suicide attempt, it is advisable that you don’t leave them alone.
- Be cautious and be on the lookout for various harmful items, such as sharp knives, drugs, etc.
- If you know some elderly person, who is experiencing active or passive suicidal thoughts, then it is best to contact a medical professional and seek help immediately.
The world we live in is a complex place. It is the place, that gives importance to young and adult suicide, but almost completely ignores elderly suicide; even though the suicide rates in the latter population are much higher than the rest. The reason is pretty simple, we glorify the young generation, as we see our future in them. But, in this process, we seem to forget our elderly, we seem to completely overlook the bountiful of wisdom, love, and care we have received from them. As caregivers, it is now the time, that you shower your love, care on them and provide them the time and support that they would require to easily sail through the difficult journey called “life”. For more help, contact me.