Suicide Prevention in the Elderly – A Complete Guide

As the world starts becoming more aware of mental illnesses, suicide prevention too has gained a fair bit of recognition. An alarming increase in suicides (cutting across all age groups) all over the world, has forced experts, family members and society at large to focus seriously on this sensitive subject. However, even though the elderly population faces significant risks of suicide, this fact still does not receive due attention in our country. Feelings of unhappiness and loneliness, increasing instances of depression, and plain tiredness of suffering from chronic illnesses, are some of the factors that may lead to signs of suicide among the elderly.

One of the biggest challenges faced by seniors’ care services and health professionals, is that the elderly seldom like to talk about mental health problems and hardly ever seek help or treatment for the same. This leaves them vulnerable and liable to take the wrong step, thinking that things don’t have a chance to get better. This is why suicide prevention in the elderly is something that needs to have very high importance.

Warning Signs of Suicide in the Elderly

While many older adults may not like to talk about suicide, you can still remain on the lookout for any signs of suicide, to ensure that they can receive the help they need when it is most important. The warning signs of suicide are not always blatantly out there and may need some work to recognise, but there are some actions you should stay vigilant about:

•    Losing interest in activities or things that they used to find enjoyable.
•    Cutting back on their social interactions.
•    Neglecting grooming or self-care.
•    Breaking their medical regimens (like ignoring their medication or dietary requirements).
•    Going through or expecting a major personal loss (death of someone close.)
•    Feeling hopeless most of the time.
•    Putting their affairs in order, getting rid of possessions, making changes in their wills, etc.
•    Stocking up on their medication like anti-depressants or sleeping pills, or trying to obtain other lethal means.

While the most significant indicator is of course an expression of the intent to commit suicide, its prevention requires looking out for subtle signs as well, like a preoccupation with the idea of death, no concern about personal safety, or off-feeling remarks like “I won’t need more appointments”, “who knows if we’ll meet again”, etc.

Even simple steps like looking for a proper elderly suicide prevention program for the senior or patient in your care can go a long way in helping them.

Why Older Adults May Consider Suicide

As a person ages, depression seems to be the biggest sign of suicide that requires attention. However, it is not the only major reason behind elderly suicide. Then also, many elderly suicide victims have also been known to have been in regular contact with their families, even living with them, which rules out isolation as being the reason behind why they took the step. On the other hand, the misuse of alcohol with psychiatric illnesses also poses a risk. According to most elderly suicide prevention programs, these factors may further be intensified by financial issues, discord in the family, chronic illnesses, physical disability, loss, grief, etc.

Suicide prevention in older adults is not just about stopping them from taking the fatal step, but trying to get to the root of the issue, so it can be dealt with properly.

Challenges for Suicide Prevention Awareness

Too much importance given to public notions about what is and what is not acceptable, a general belief that old age and depression are inseparable, etc. contribute to the lack of proper treatment options and help for suicide prevention among the elderly. While the family and caretakers can take steps to help with suicide prevention, taking time to talk to and “listen” to the person, interacting and socialising with them, showing empathetic concern, and more, sometimes just suicide prevention awareness is not enough. At times, the older adult needs an elderly suicide prevention program that allows them access to mental health professionals who can help.

Seeking Help from a Professional for Suicide Prevention in the Elderly

A trained mental health professional can, not just help you gain awareness about suicide in the elderly but can also help the family of the elderly person cope with the various issues that surround the problem. Even brief therapy about suicide prevention for older adults can prove to be very beneficial, especially when combined with depressive disorder medication. Many people tend to think that suicide prevention is not realistically possible as it is a very personal decision that is affected by social and economic factors that are not really in the victim’s control. However, help at the right time can make a lot of difference for someone.  

It is a fact that suicide awareness is very important today and as suicide is a multifaceted problem, it needs multidimensional suicide prevention programs as well. Commitment, coordination, concern, and companionship can prove to be irreplaceable when it comes to suicide prevention in older adults. Sometimes, even ensuring that the elderly have proper companionship can go a long way in ensuring their mental health, as they would feel less isolated in their golden years.

Emoha offers easy access to trained healthcare professionals and caretakers who are well-experienced with suicide prevention and can help you ensure the well-being of your loved ones. For us, it is always #EldersFirst.