The month of September is designated as National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in the United States. The idea is to bring awareness to the issue in the hope of reaching those who might be at risk of committing suicide. The Westport elder law attorneys at Nirenstein, Horowitz & Associates, P.C. remind us that seniors may be most at risk during National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.
The Unspoken Risk of Senior Suicide
Not all that long ago suicide was one of those subjects no one talked about out loud. Unfortunately, that is still the case when it comes to seniors committing suicide. Most people don’t associate the risk of suicide with the elderly. As such, it may surprise you to learn that in 2005, the most recent year for which statistics are available, there were 5,404 suicides in the United States among those aged 65 and older, according to the American Association of Suicidology. That figure translates into nearly 15 elder suicides per day, or one suicide every hour and 37 minutes. Although in 2005 older adults comprised only 12.4 percent of the population, they represented 16.6 percent of all suicides.
Why Are Seniors at a Higher Risk for Suicide?
Challenges placed on aging individuals can result in depression, which can easily evolve into clinical depression, according to Patrick Arbore, EdD, director of the Center for Elderly Suicide Prevention and Grief Related Services Institute on Aging in San Francisco. “An older person who is diagnosed with a complex illness such as cancer, Parkinson’s, diabetes, dementia, etc. can trigger a depression,” he says. Likewise, losses that include the death of loved ones, pets, and even the potential loss of self can become extremely difficult to manage for elders, he says. Fears surrounding the ability to maintain an independent living status “can arouse enormous anxiety, especially when the older person values autonomy above all else.”
Just as research in gerontology has shown a pattern in older adulthood associated with greater happiness in later life with activity and flexibility, the lack of such attributes or styles may be associated with unhappiness and possibly suicide in late life, according to John L. McIntosh, PhD, a professor of psychology at Indiana University South Bend. “Health, finances, and social support are extremely important issues in life satisfaction and almost certainly suicide and depression in late life as well,” says McIntosh. “Studies consistently show the tremendous relationship between suicide and depression.” McIntosh went on to say that seniors often contemplate suicide because they:
- Cannot tolerate the level of psychological pain they are experiencing
- Believe there are no solutions for their problems
- Perceive themselves as powerless to change their life circumstances
- Feel that they are a burden to others
- Find that life has no meaning
“Attitudes and beliefs can be significant factors in suicide, particularly autonomy, dignity, and responsibility,” says Arbore. “Alcohol and other substance use disorders also place older people at significantly increased risk for suicide.” Unlike suicides among young people, “Older adult suicide is not an impulsive act,” says Chi. “Elderly suicide is contemplated for a long period of time.”
How to Recognize Someone at Risk
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), almost half of all people who commit suicide had a known mental health condition, making that the number one risk factor for suicide. Other risk factors for people of all ages include:
- A family history of suicide
- Substance abuse. Drugs can create mental highs and lows that worsen suicidal thoughts.
- More than 1 in 3 people who die from suicide are under the influence of alcohol at the time of death.
- Access to firearms
- A serious or chronic medical illness
- Although more women than men attempt suicide, men are nearly 4x more likely to die by suicide.
- A history of trauma or abuse
- Prolonged stress
- A recent tragedy or loss
If you, or someone you care about, may be suicidal, call 9-1-1 immediately. If you need someone to talk to, call the National Suicide Hotline, 800-273-TALK (8255). Additionally, the Center for Elderly Suicide Prevention and Grief Related Services operates the only accredited 24-hour hotline for older adults in the country. Known as the “Friendship Line for the Elderly” it can be reached by calling 800-971-0016. You can also connect with someone online through their website. If you’re uncomfortable talking on the phone, you can also text NAMI to 741-741 to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor on the Crisis Text Line.
Contact Westport Elder Law Attorneys
If you have an elder law question or concern please feel free to contact the experienced Westport elder law attorneys at Nirenstein, Horowitz & Associates, P.C. by calling (860) 548-1000 to schedule an appointment.