Suicide is shocking and tragic, and something that can be difficult for loved ones to anticipate and even more challenging to live with. While youth and adults of any age can suffer from severe depression that may lead to suicidal behavior, most of us assume that suicide primarily affects younger persons. However, suicide rates remain high among older adults; in fact, older men and women show the highest suicide rate in almost all countries.
There are many reasons why elderly persons suffer from depression and may consider suicide, even when they are relatively healthy, receiving free home healthcare services, have loved ones nearby, or otherwise maintain what would appear to be a high quality of life. Here are some warning signs of suicide in the elderly that are important to watch out for if you are an elderly caregiver or the child or loved one of an elderly person:
Risk Factors and Warning Signs of Suicide in Older Adults
The first thing that you should be aware of is the various risk factors for suicide and severe depression. When a person experiences some sort of trauma in their lives, the risk of suicide/depression may increase. Some risk factors for suicide in older adults include:
- A traumatic event, such as the loss of a loved one, such as a spouse or close friend;
- The onset of a serious health condition, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s, a stroke, or even a fall injury that leaves them incapacitated;
- Social isolation;
- Substance abuse disorders or behaviors; and
- A loss of financial, healthcare, or personal independence.
If any of the above risk factors are present in your elderly loved one’s life, they may be at an increased risk of a mental health disorder like severe depression. Some of the warning signs that your loved one may be thinking about suicide include:
- Intentional social isolation – they are no longer interested in spending time with friends or family or doing things they once enjoyed;
- Lack of interest in the future or day-to-day life;
- Engaging in daring or risk-taking behavior;
- Making comments that are related to death or being a burden, such as “You’d be better off without me”;
- Making final arrangements, such as a will (note: forming a will can also be a smart strategy for estate planning, and does not necessarily indicate that suicide is imminent);
- Suffering from mood swings, such as intense agitation, anger, sadness, or aggression; and
- Talking about suicide or makes threats – talking about suicide should never be dismissed as an empty threat.
What to Do If You Are Worried About Your Elderly Loved One and Potential Suicide
Fearing that your elderly loved one is thinking about or planning to commit suicide is extremely unsettling and terrifying. If you suspect that your elderly loved one is severely depressed to the point that they may commit self-harm, take action immediately by calling the suicide prevention hotline, talking to a mental health professional, and getting your loved one help.