September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. Did you know that senior suicide is more common with older Americans than any other group? What are the signs and how can senior suicide be prevented with older Americans?
The statistics for older adult suicide are alarming. According to the article, “While people 65 and older account for 12 percent of the population, they represent 16 percent to 25 percent of the suicides. Four out of five suicides in older adults are men. And among white men over 85, the suicide rate – 50 per 100,000 men – is six times that of the general population” Wow.
What drives older adults to contemplate and even carry out senior suicide? Depression. Depression from health issues. Depression from not being as active as in earlier years. Depression from loneliness from losing a spouse. Depression from not feeling valued. Depression from not feeling connected with other human beings.
This social component of depression is especially critical for older men. “Many men are poorly prepared for retirement, and don’t know how to fill in the hours and maintain a sense of usefulness when they stop working. ‘They often sit around watching TV,’ said Martha Bruce, a professor of sociology and psychiatry at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University in White Plains, New York.” Another factor is widowhood. This observation is shared in the article: “Widowers are especially at risk because older men in the current generation tend to depend on their wives to maintain social contacts. When wives die, their husbands’ social interactions often cease.”
How to help older adults to feel connected and valued to avoid senior suicidal tendencies? The article recommends having older adults find and maintain a daily purpose for their lives. “Older adults should structure their days by maintaining a regular cycle and planning activities that ‘give them pleasure, purpose and a reason for living.” Participating with social activities like “joining a book club or bowling league, going to a senior center or gym, taking courses at a local college, hanging out at the coffee shop,” provides the kind of social activity that wards off depression. Other way older adults can promote a healthy outlook and feeling of self-worth is to develop new interests “like painting or needlework or volunteering at a place of worship, school or museum.”
Senior suicide is real. With more baby boomers reaching older adulthood, it is wise to become familiar with the triggers for senior suicide to not only help those we love – but ourselves as well. The key for me is clear: stay active, stay involved, and find purpose in every day.