The elderly are at increased risk for suicide. A person over the age of 65 dies by suicide about every 90 minutes in the United States. Elderly males are at particularly high risk, and complete suicide about 5 times more often than elderly females. The suicide rate for the elderly reached a peak in 1987 and has been declining since that time. Although the elderly attempt suicide less often than other age groups, they complete suicide more often. Reasons for this may include that their intent is high and they are thorough planners, attempting in such a way so as to avoid rescue. They may also be medically compromised in the first place, and so more likely to die from their attempt.
Often there are mental health or substance abuse concerns that are treatable that are related to the person’s thoughts of suicide. There may also be other medical concerns that are a part of why the person may be considering suicide.
Suicide risk in the elderly is often associated with depression. Depression is an illness and needs to be treated, just like any other medical illness. Older adults should receive a medical evaluation, including a screening for depression, as a first step to identifying problems and determining the best course for treatment. An elderly person suffering from depression may be unable or unwilling to seek treatment, so they may require assistance in scheduling and attending an appointment with a treatment provider. Treatment providers may include family doctors, or mental health professionals such as psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers or counselors.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a toolkit for seniors – “Promoting Emotional Health and Preventing Suicide: A Toolkit for Senior Living Communities”. This toolkit contains information on screening for depression and substance abuse in the elderly, identifying warning signs for suicide and depression, action steps for promoting emotional health and well-being and postvention planning for supporting families who have lost a loved one to suicide.
Older Adults: Depression and Suicide Facts
This fact sheet from the National Institute of Mental Health contains a brief overview of the statistics on depression and suicide in older adults, with information on depression treatments and suicide prevention.
Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) has a brief that looks at the myths tied to elderly depression, the warning signs and risk factors for suicide and depression, and how to respond to an elderly person who is depressed or suicidal.
Populations and Settings- Older Adults
The Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) maintains a detailed bibliography of clinical studies, evaluations and research with links to articles on a wide variety of topics focusing on the elderly, depression and suicide.
Elderly Suicide Fact Sheet
This fact sheet from American Association of Suicidology (AAS) outlines the statistics related to the prevalence of suicide in the elderly, gender differences in rates, and means used by the elderly in completing suicide.