InnovAge Blog

Preventing Suicide in Older Adults

Suicide is often associated with young people, but there is a growing trend in adults over 50 who take their own life. The question is why, and what can we do about it?
 
Older Adults are at Risk
Recent reports by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that not only is suicide on the rise, but between 2000 and 2016, rates increased among people ages 45 to 64 by nearly 60 percent in women and 37 percent in men.


Statistics from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. 2016.
 
Suicide attempts by older adults are also typically more lethal compared to younger people. According to research published in “A Systematic Review of Social Factors and Suicidal Behavior in Older Adulthood,” this is because they tend to plan more carefully, use deadlier methods, not recover physically, and are more likely to live alone (and thus go undiscovered).
 
Education and Prevention
Diagnosing and predicting suicidal behavior is not simple. In fact, according to The New York Times, “nearly 80 percent of people who die by suicide explicitly deny suicidal thoughts or intentions in their last communications.”
 
Researchers have only recently begun to understand factors that may predict an attempt. Be aware of these triggers and warning signs:
  • History of risky behavior, impulsiveness, or sudden changes in personality
  • Hopelessness and disinterest in the future
  • Pain, substance abuse, or other medical conditions
  • Family loss, including loss of relationships
  • Inflexible personality or struggle with change
  • Access to lethal means (firearms, pills, etc.)

“The key to prevention is education,” according to InnovAge Director of Behavioral and Mental Health Services Linda Efird. “Educate adults, family members, and healthcare providers. And consider the impact of culture and religion when educating about suicide prevention.”
 
Many people don’t reach out for help because they’re afraid no one will understand. When talking to others about mental health, make sure to do so in a caring and non-judgmental way.
 
Though it’s not a cure-all solution, sharing emergency telephone numbers, like the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255, can help in dark times and may even change the course of someone’s life.
 
“If you are living in a night without a sunrise, please reach out. And if you’re not, notice those around you to see if you can help,” says InnovAge Chaplain Kelly Crabbe. “With so much chaos, change, and negativity around us, it’s easy to lose hope. The key is not to face the darkness alone.”
 
Learn more about assessing mental illness in older adults, and explore other posts featuring Linda Efird and Kelly Crabbe, like the interplay of addiction and dementia and dealing with grief and loss.

If you are living in a night without a sunrise, please reach out. And if you’re not, notice those around you to see if you can help.
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