Suicide is one of the most shocking and least understood critical life events. A recent NY Times The New Old Age blog post reports data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that shows 12.4 per 100,000 Americans of all ages take their own lives each year. With increased awareness, better education and early screening for depression and potential suicide risks, there have been great strides in suicide prevention and reducing the number of suicides, especially in certain population groups.
Although suicide rates for seniors have declined over the past decades, one of the highest rates is among men 65 and over. The CDC reports statistics for all seniors over 65 is 14.9 per 100,000, but often due to stigma, it’s believed suicide may be under reported. While senior women suicides decrease after 65, senior white men have the highest rate – 29 per 100,000 overall. Even more alarming is that among those older men over age 85, that rate climbs to 47 per 100,000.
Why Are Suicides Higher for Seniors?
According to the blog, older people attempt suicide less than younger people, but are more likely to die from the attempt. This is due to using more lethal means, such as a gun. University of Rochester Medical Center psychiatrist Dr. Yeates Conwell, who has studied elderly suicides, says “Younger people have more physical resilience and use less lethal means.” Another factor is older adults are often reluctant to ask for help and men especially, see depression as a personality weakness.
Fortunately, efforts to reach out to seniors with potential suicide risks, such as isolation and grief over loss of a loved one, are increasing. The blog reports the Center for Elderly Suicide Prevention handles 3,000 calls a month to the “friendship line,” named to be more acceptable to older adults than “suicide hotline.”
Family doctors are most likely to be the ones to spot seniors at risk for suicide, but family members should always take talk of suicide seriously and seek help when needed.