Suicide Prevention Day - A Focus on Seniors as Rates Continue to Increase
By Don Drake, Connelly Law Offices, Ltd.
Today, September 10th marks World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD), which is organized by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) and supported by the World Health Organization (WHO). Professional fiduciary and certified elder law Attorney RJ Connelly III states that "this event serves as a global commitment to raising awareness and preventing suicide."
The theme for this year's suicide prevention efforts is "Creating hope through action." It emphasizes the importance of collective action to address this pressing public health issue. Everyone, including family members, friends, co-workers, community members, educators, religious leaders, healthcare professionals, political officials, and governments, can take steps to prevent suicide in the region.
"The purpose of this day is to increase global awareness about suicide prevention," said Attorney Connelly. "The aim is to promote stakeholder collaboration and self-empowerment to prevent self-harm and suicide."
To prevent suicide, we need to educate healthcare and other senior care providers, sharing positive and informative messages to both the general population and at-risk groups, such as young people and older adults and encourage open discussions on mental health at home, school, in the workplace and at facilities that provide services to seniors. It is also important for people who are contemplating or affected by suicide to share their stories and seek professional help.
Scope of the Problem
According to provisional data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last year saw the highest number of recorded suicides in the United States. At least 49,449 lives were lost due to intentional self-harm in 2022, which translates to nearly 15 deaths for every 100,000 people. The suicide rate in 2021 saw a significant increase, reversing the two-year decline, and continued to rise last year, surpassing the previous record from 2018.
According to this data, suicide became the 11th leading cause of death in 2021, and it continued to hold the same position in 2022. It ranked just below chronic liver disease and above influenza and pneumonia. The data also reveals that firearms were involved in more than half of all suicides in 2022.
"Suicide is an especially serious concern for older adults," stated Attorney Connelly. "Among older men, suicide rates are particularly high, with men aged 85 and older having the highest rate among any group in the country. Moreover, suicide attempts by older adults are much more likely to result in death compared to younger individuals. Therefore, it is crucial to address this issue and provide adequate support and resources for older adults struggling with suicidal thoughts."
A Focus on Seniors It is alarming to note that older individuals are more likely to take their own lives. This phenomenon is particularly prevalent among elderly men, especially those over eighty. They are at a higher risk due to various factors such as chronic pain, dependency on others, loneliness, and a loss of meaning in life. While some of these risk factors can be addressed, others may prove too much of a burden for the affected individuals and their families to cope with alone.
Other characteristics increase the risk of suicide, including being an older white male or divorced. The most significant risk factor is the presence of a major psychiatric disorder at the time of death, as major depression is commonly linked to suicide in later life. Many elderly individuals who commit suicide have close contact with family and friends, indicating that depression plays a larger role than social isolation. Misuse of alcohol in combination with a psychiatric illness also heightens risk. Furthermore, these risk factors can be exacerbated by medical conditions, family conflict, financial difficulties, physical disabilities, persistent pain, and grief.
Methods of Suicide by Older Adults
It's alarming to learn that firearms are the most commonly used method of suicide among older adults, accounting for 67% of cases. Poisoning and suffocation are the next most common methods, accounting for 14% and 12% of cases, respectively. Shockingly, older adults are almost twice as likely to use firearms as a means of suicide than those under the age of sixty. It's crucial that we take preventative measures seriously and employ multiple intervention methods, given the high lethality of suicide attempts among older adults. Unfortunately, our healthcare system is not meeting the needs of many elderly, and discriminatory coverage and reimbursement policies for mental health care are significant barriers to treatment.
It is imperative to recognize that numerous risk factors contribute to suicidal tendencies in senior individuals. But also remember that each person's experience is unique, and a variety of risk factors can contribute to the cause of suicide in the elderly. Some of the most common ones include:
Loss of interest in activities or things that are usually enjoyable.
Withdrawal from social interactions, self-care, and grooming.
Breaking medical regimens (such as skipping medical appointments, not getting prescriptions filled, increasing alcohol use, etc.).
Experiencing or expecting a significant personal loss such as a spouse, child, or close friend.
Feelings of hopelessness and/or worthlessness.
Sleep disruption without any medical causes.
Talking about "feeling trapped".
Seeing oneself as being a burden to others.
Putting affairs in order, giving things away that have great financial or personal meaning to the individual, or making changes in wills.
Stock-piling medication or obtaining other lethal means (especially a firearm).
Pay attention to certain behavioral clues that could indicate a preoccupation with death or a lack of concern about personal safety. It is important to take immediate action when remarks such as "This is the last time that you'll see me" or "I won't be needing any more appointments" are made, as they should raise a red flag.
The most significant indicator is expressing suicidal intent.
Suicidal thoughts should never be taken lightly, as they often accompany depression. Passive suicidal thoughts, also known as death ideation, refer to thoughts of being better off dead. While not always indicative of an increased risk of suicide, they do signal significant distress and must be addressed clinically. Active suicidal thoughts involve planning to inflict harm on oneself and require immediate attention and intervention.
"Sadly, there is a common belief that suicide among young people is more tragic than that of older adults," stated Attorney Connelly. "This misconception often undermines efforts to address mental health issues in the elderly. It is essential to shift this perspective and raise awareness about the significance of identifying mood disorders in later life and their link to suicide in this demographic."
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