For most people, psychological well-being increases later in life, where people report less satisfaction in midlife and more at either end of the age spectrum. Paradoxically, though, suicide rates rise sharply as age progresses. Ongoing thoughts of depression and hopelessness should not be considered a normal part of aging.
Unfortunately, older adults do not normally seek treatment for mental health problems, contributing to suicide risk. As the baby boomers are joining the ranks of older Americans, the elderly are the fastest-growing segment of the population, and hence, the issue of later life suicide is a major public health priority.
- Older Americans made up 14.9% of the U.S. population but accounted for 17.9% of reported suicide deaths.
- West Virginia ranked 13th in suicide among older adults in 2015.
- Suicide is the 16th leading cause of death among older adults in West Virginia.
- In 2010, in the older American population (65+), there was one suicide every 90 minutes, accounting for approximately 16 suicides each day – a total of 5,994 suicides.
- 90% of older adult suicides were among males, with a rate of 50.1 per 100,000.
- Over the age 65, there is one estimated suicide for every 4 attempted suicides.
Risk factors are consistent across the lifespan, with some of the more commonly associated being:
- Substance Abuse
- Social Dependency or Isolation
Warning signs look different in everyone. In the older Americans, you may see:
- Unrelenting low mood
- Breaking medical regimens such as taking prescriptions, attending appointments and following diets
- Loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable
- Decreased self-care or grooming
- Putting affairs in order, making changes a will
- Stockpiling pills or obtaining other lethal means
- Increased alcohol and/or other drug use
- Recent impulsiveness and taking unnecessary risk
If you or someone you know is exhibiting these risk factors, it is important to know that there is hope and help available. Once you have recognized the signs, you need to respond to the risk by asking about suicide. If you are thinking it, they may be as well. Once you are aware that there is a risk for suicide, there are many opportunities for you to react in seeking help.
- Actively encouraging the person to see a physician or mental health professional immediately.
- Removing firearms, pills and other potential means from the area.
- Stay with the person until they get additional help.
- Call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255), for additional assistance.