Q: My friend of more than 50 years passed away a few months ago. Her husband is distraught, they were devoted to each other. I stopped to visit with him the other day and he said there wasn’t any reason for him to go on living. I don’t know if he is depressed or really considering ending his life. I always thought suicide was more prevalent with younger and middle aged people. Should I mind my own business or do something?
A: For some unknown reason many people associate suicide with troubled teens or younger individuals with a history of drug/alcohol usage. The media focuses on celebrities who have taken their life…Robin Williams, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. It may surprise you to learn white men age 85+ have the highest rate of suicide for any age group in the U.S.
Unfortunately suicide attempts are more often lethal for older adults for several reasons. They plan more carefully, they are less likely to be discovered (due to isolation or limited social involvement) and their physical frailty minimizes recovery possibility.
A majority of those attempting suicide desperately just want to make the pain and suffering go away whether that be physical or emotional. Risk factors for suicide in older adults includes depression, social isolation, loss of family members and long time friends, and declining health. Worries about insufficient finances and loss of independence may add to the bigger picture of how an aging person views their life.
Any indication a person may be contemplating suicide should never be ignored. If you feel comfortable speak with your friend and encourage him to talk with his personal physician. Think about anyone else who might have a positive influence on him such as another family member, minister, or other friends. The goal is to get him connected with a mental health professional. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK is a resource to be accessed. You can file a Protective Services Report on the elder if you are concerned for their safety. The number to file a report is 800-922-2275.
Are you struggling caring for an older adult or having difficulty locating resources? Our staff is available for a no-cost consultation, set up at your convenience, to help guide you through your caregiving experience. For more details or to schedule an appointment, please call 800-892-0890.
Do you have a question? We encourage inquiries and comments from our readers. Please direct your correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org or Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc., Age Information Department, 280 Merrimack Street, Suite 400, Lawrence, MA 01843. Joan Hatem-Roy is the CEO of Elder Services.