Suicide Prevention: Understanding Why Older Adults May Be At Risk


Who would you guess has the highest rate of suicide in America? It may surprise you to learn that it’s men 85-plus years old, according to the Suicide Resource Prevention Center. 

There are several reasons for this including: depression, substance abuse, illness, disability, pain or social isolation. 

Suicide Prevention Week is Sept. 5-11 this year. It’s worth understanding some of the causes so that we can help prevent these tragedies. 

Suicide attempts by older adults more often result in death because older adults plan more carefully and use more deadly methods. They are also less likely to be discovered — and therefore rescued — and they are typically more frail and less likely to recover from an attempt. 

Know the Signs of Suicide 

How do you know whether someone in your life may be contemplating suicide? Here are a few warning signs that could indicate suicide is being considered, especially by an older adult: 

  • Expression of depression or hopelessness. 
  • Loss of independence. 
  • Serious medical diagnosis that could dramatically change the quality of life or end it prematurely. 
  • Social isolation. 
  • Recent death of a loved one or other family issues. 
  • Lack of desire or inability to deal with change. 
  • Exhibiting risky behaviors. 
  • Increased substance use or abuse. 
  • Previous suicide attempts or making statements indicating life would be better if they weren’t around. 
  • Giving away valuable possessions which seem no longer important. 

Source: Mental Health America 

Increased substance use or abuse can be a warning sign for suicide. Regular use can also lead to addiction. Here are some of the warning signs. 

Drug Addiction Symptoms:  
  • Feeling you have to use the drug regularly — daily or even several times a day. 
  • Having intense urges for the drug blocking out any other thoughts. 
  • Needing more of the drug to get the same effect over time. 
  • Taking larger amounts of the drug over a longer period of time than you intended. 
  • Making certain that you maintain a supply of the drug. 
  • Spending money on the drug, even though you can’t afford it. 
  • Not meeting obligations and work responsibilities or cutting back on social or recreational activities because of drug use. 
  • Continuing to use the drug, even though you know it’s causing problems in your life or causing you physical or psychological harm. 
  • Doing things to get the drug that you normally wouldn’t do, such as stealing. 
  • Driving or doing other risky activities when you’re under the influence of the drug. 
  • Spending a good deal of time getting the drug, using the drug, or recovering from the effects of the drug. 
  • Failing in your attempts to stop using the drug. 
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to stop taking the drug. 

Source: Mayo Clinic 

Suicide Help

There are ways to help others who are struggling with suicidal thoughts. If you know someone who feels isolated from the pandemic or needs support, keep in mind these ideas from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center: 

Action Steps  
  1. Reach out. Maintain regular contact, whether in person, over the phone, or through your computer. 
  1. Listen. Use active listening to understand the underlying emotion of a message; let them know you hear them and understand them. 
  1. Share stories. If you relate to their situation, let them know they are not alone. 
  1. Be positive. Modeling optimism instills hope. 
  1. Encourage self-care. Help them find an activity that provides meaning to their life. 
  1. Offer help. Do they need a ride? Groceries? A meal? See if you can support them by providing a basic necessity. 
  1. Direct them to a professional. Mental health treatment for adults is generally quite effective, but adults are three times less likely to seek help than younger adults. 


National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

New Directions Behavioral Health: 1-866-287 9569 

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