Suicide and older adults
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., with about 45,000 people taking their own lives in 2017. Understandably, teen or younger adult suicide gets a lot of notice and attention. However, suicide rates among older adults are similar or greater than in younger groups — with older, white males having the highest rates of any demographic.
Suicide warning signs may include mood or behavior changes or a worsening psychiatric problem. There may be a sense of intense hopelessness, feeling trapped or feeling that there’s no reason to go on living — or there may be increased anger, anxiety or agitation. Impulsive or reckless actions may increase. Other behaviors may include increasing medication, alcohol or drug use, increased or decreased sleep and withdrawing from others.
Another important indication is thinking about or planning suicide. Talking about death can be normal and healthy, particularly among older adults who are nearing the end of their lifespan. However, talk of death or suicide can escalate, which should prompt intervention. Levels include:
- Lower risk with evaluation needed, though not urgently — This includes talk or thoughts that life isn’t worth living or that one would be better off dead, but with no specific plans or intent for suicide. This can be more passive in nature, such as wishing God will take you or wishing you would not wake up from sleep.
- High risk with immediate evaluation needed — This includes someone having ideas of suicide plus a plan of how to go about it, but without indication of intent to follow through.
- Highest risk with immediate, emergency care needed — This includes someone with serious thoughts of suicide, including suicide plans, intent and means to carry it out or agitation and indications that impulses can’t be controlled.
Suicide risk fluctuates, and can sometimes reach a point in severity in which urgent help is needed. Calling 911 or a local emergency number — or getting to an emergency department — is appropriate for people who appear to be at high risk of harming themselves.
At any level of risk, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is an excellent resource where you can reach a trained counselor at any time by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
It's not easy to talk about, but joining the discussion at the Depression & Anxiety group can be a way to share your story and help others.