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Older Adults: A Secret Suicide Risk?

Think that suicide mostly affects young people? That only families who have children or teenagers need to be concerned with the risk of depression, anxiety and suicide? That all seniors are living a happy and blissful retirement?

You may be surprised to learn that seniors are one of the groups of people most at risk when it comes to suicide. In 2015, the second highest rate of suicide (19.4%) occurred in those 85 years or older.1 Anyone can have thoughts of suicide or be struggling.

Some seniors are surrounded by large families, and have good health that enables them to travel and enjoy a myriad of activities. For some seniors though, that is not the case, and growing numbers are plagued with depression, experience loneliness, and lack a sense of purpose in their retirement years. For older adults, the loss of a spouse is often the event that triggers the desire to take one’s own life. Other precipitating factors may include a deterioration in a person’s physical health, the diagnosis of a chronic or life-threatening condition, depression, financial concerns, a loss of independence, and isolation.

How do you know if a senior in your life is at risk? Here are some of the warning signs of suicide:

  1. Increased use of alcohol or drugs

  2. Loss of interest in people, things or activities that they usually find enjoyable

  3. A change in self-care or grooming

  4. Putting affairs in order, giving away prized possessions or making changes to a will

  5. Anxiety and depression

  6. Feelings of hopelessness or lack or purpose

  7. Anger or other mood changes

  8. Recklessness with personal safety

Elder suicide will continue to be a problem in our aging society. What can you do?

  1. Keep an eye out for the important warning signs.

  2. Be aware of any changes in personality, behaviors, or mood of your loved one.

  3. Open a dialogue with the person if you have concerns. Tell them you have noticed some changes, and that you are worried. Share the reasons why.

  4. Ask them directly if they are thinking about suicide.

  5. Invite them to talk and listen calmly.

  6. Connect them with resources and extra help. Provide them with the names and telephone numbers of several people they can call when they need to talk or have an emergency – family members, close friends, a minister, a neighbor, a mental health crisis line or suicide prevention lifeline.

  7. Try to limit the amount of time the person spends alone and keep them safe.

  8. Research suicide prevention resources in your community. Check out the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for more information on suicide and how you can take action.

  9. Talk to your doctor about your concerns. Review the person’s medications. Is depression a side effect of any of the medications that they are on? If so, can changes be made? Can the person be screened for depression? Are they a candidate for starting an anti-depressant?

It is important to recognize the warning signs of suicide and know how to respond when you fear that someone you love may take their own life.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.


  1. Retrieved from:, December 2017.

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