Elderly Suicide - Protecting the Most Vulnerable
By D.M. Schmitt / November, December, 2011

September is National Suicide Awareness Month. One of the most vulnerable groups of people to suicide are the elderly. In this population, suicide, known as the silent killer, is on the rise. Numbers prove the fact - elderly suicide has surpassed the national suicide average of non-seniors.

Senior agencies report that, while the graying population makes up only twelve per cent of the population, the elderly comprise eighteen per cent of all U.S. suicides. Of every 100,000 seniors age 65 and older, more than fifteen will die from suicide, according to experts. This is higher than the national average of eleven suicides per 100.000 people.

Most at risk are white men age 85 and older, says the American Association of Suicidology, a suicide prevention and assistance association based in Washington, D.C. The causes are numerous, from physical to emotional. They include stresses related to the aging process, health concerns, physical limitations, financial problems, a sense of feeling alone, and loss of a loved one or spouse.

Another risk factor for the elderly is the aging process. Seniors experience a diminishing amount of serotonin in the brain, which leads to depression. Serotonin helps the brain regulate moods. Other physical conditions that can lead to depression are thyroid disease, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis and some viruses. These changes may exacerbate the effects of depression, grief, a sense of isolation, and thoughts of suicide.

If you know a friend, relative or neighbor who is elderly, reach out. Experts say the signs of suicide are a family history of suicide, mental illness, chronic health issues leading to depression, withdrawal from family and friends, and loss of interest in things usually found enjoyable.

The good news is that roughly seventy-five per cent of suicide victims do exhibit detectable symptoms. That means there is time for intervention and getting help for someone tending toward suicide. Signs include making a will, getting his or her affairs in order, suddenly visiting friends or family members for a farewell visit, buying a gun or rope, hoarding pills or other forms of medications, and a sudden, significant decline in mood.

Contrary to popular belief, many people who kill themselves do not tell a therapist or other mental health professional of a plan for suicide in the months prior to the tragic act. If a plan is communicated, it is more likely to be told to someone who is personally close, like a friend or relative.

Do not leave a person alone, if you think he or she is suicidal. Seek immediate help from the person's doctor or the nearest hospital emergency room. Or call 911. Eliminate access to firearms or other potential tools for suicide, including unsupervised access to medications. It is better to act on behalf of someone who needs help than to regret not intervening later.

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