Suicide Concerns

Thoughts of death are normal and common when people are older but suicidal thinking is not. Suicide, the taking of one’s own life, looks like an option to people who are in so much pain or distress that they cannot see that things could get better. Suicide is most often the result of an untreated mental illness such as depression and thus it is preventable.

Indicators of suicide risk include:

  • feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
  • feeling that life is a burden and empty of joy
  • feelings of worthlessness
  • diagnosis of a chronic or major illness
  • living in isolation, alcoholism or substance abuse
  • multiple or significant recent losses
  • family history of suicide, giving away meaningful possessions
  • sudden happiness or an energy boost after a period of low mood
  • getting all personal affairs in order

Listen for statements like:

  • “I wish I were dead.”
  • “You just wait, I’m not going to be around much longer.”
  • “I’m only a burden. You all would be better off without me.”
  • “I can’t take this life anymore.”

What you can say:

  • “I care about you and I’m worried and I think we both need help with this situation so I want to make a phone call.
  • “I understand that you feel like you want to die, but I know that you can feel better and I am going to help you.”
  • “I can tell that you are serious and in a lot of pain but I’m concerned that this would be a permanent solution to what is a temporary problem. Let me try to find help.”

Any hint or threat of suicide should be taken seriously. Asking a person about suicidal intent will not put the idea into their head or set a plan in motion.

Older adults have the highest suicide rate of any population, they have intent to succeed (it is less likely for an attempt to a “call for help”) and they use the most lethal of means (firearms are most often involved). White males over the age of 80 are six times more likely to commit suicide than any other group.

Some suicides are “passive” meaning that the older adults allows the death to happen by not taking measures to protect their own life. Examples of passive suicide include not eating, not following a doctor’s orders for health care, not taking medications and not taking obvious actions to protect oneself.

Too many older adults do not know that they can feel better. It is easy to lose hope when you don’t know that depression is the underlying problem or when you think that depression is a normal or expected part of aging. But there is hope. Remember that there is an 80% treatment rate for mental health disorders, and when mental illness is treated, all other aspects of life improve.