Thoughts about mortality and talk about death or the dying process are perfectly normal in later life. As loved ones and peers pass away, older adults may begin to think about arrangements they want to make, legacies they want to leave, and concerns they might have regarding their own death experience.
Older adults have the highest rate of suicide of any other population. They intend to complete (less likely for an attempt to be a “call for help”) and they use the most lethal of means (firearms are most involved). White males over the age of 80 are 6 times more likely to commit suicide than any other group.
If you have concerns or an emergency regarding suicide:
- In the event of an emergency dial 911
- 24-hour hotline in Maryland– Call: 1-800-422-0009 (toll free statewide) or 2-1-1, Press 1
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline– Call: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) – Veterans press 1
Depression is the disease behind a great majority of suicides; unfortunately, depression goes largely untreated among older adults (men are even less likely to get help). When people feel hopelessness, helplessness, apathetic, or full of despair, death begins to look like relief. Suicide becomes an attractive option. In this way, depression is deadly. All indicators show that when people are treated for depression, suicide is no longer appealing.
Some suicides are “passive”, meaning that the older adult allows death to happen by not taking measures to protect her own life. Examples of passive suicide include not eating, not taking essential medications, not seeking help for obvious medical conditions and putting oneself in harm’s way.
Many older adults are less open with their thoughts and plans for suicide. Because their wish is usually for death, they may be more secretive and more likely to deny their intent. They may not want to “burden” anyone with their thoughts or case interference with their plans an ironic symptom of suicidal intent is the appearance of overall happiness. People who have decided to attempt suicide often have a burst of energy and positive mood.
The following behaviors, expressions, and circumstances indicated that an older person is at higher risk for attempting suicide:
- Any past suicidal attempt
- Successful suicide by family member or close friend
- Series of losses
- Dramatic change in health conditions
- Giving away items with great personal affairs in order
- Change in mood from depressed to enthusiastic
- Statements regarding death