Older Adults Are Unique Suicide Risk and Need Special Care

Kingwood Pines Hospital is known for helping people of all ages in their time of mental health crisis, including children, adolescents and adults. One age group that is vitally important and unique in times of crisis is older adults, and Kingwood Pines can also help this age group when crisis mental health situations occur.

Suicide rates are particularly high among older men, with men ages 85 and older having the highest rate of any group in the United States. Suicide attempts by older adults are much more likely to result in death than attempts among younger persons. Several factors increase this risk:

  • Older adults plan more carefully and use more deadly methods.
  • Older adults are less likely to be discovered and rescued
  • The physical frailty of older adults means they are less likely to recover from an attempt.

Those who work closely with older adults need to be able to recognize and respond to immediate signs of suicide risk. By supporting the well-being of older adults and ensuring that those at risk for suicide are identified and receive the treatment they need, suicide can be prevented.

Risk factors are the medical and mental health conditions, personal characteristics, life circumstances, and situations that influence or are associated with a higher likelihood of problem outcomes such as suicide. Risk factors for older adults include the following:

  • Depression and other mental health issues
  • Substance abuse
  • Physical illness, disability, or pain
  • Current life circumstances such as social isolation, living alone, loss of family member(s) or spouse, lack of close relationships, and financial problems

Some behaviors may indicate that an older adult is at immediate risk for suicide. These three signs should prompt you to take action right away:

  • Talking about wanting to die or kill oneself
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online or obtaining a gun
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live

If you work with older adults and see any of the signs of immediate suicide risk, take the following steps right away:

  1. Contact a mental health professional or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255).
  2. If the person is in immediate danger of attempting suicide, call 911.
  3. Stay with the person until he or she has been connected to further help. Talk with the person in a supportive way.

Other behaviors may also indicate serious—although less immediate—risk, especially if the behavior is new; has increased; and/or seems related to a painful event, loss, or change:

Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain, Talking about being a burden to others, Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs, Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly, Sleeping too little or too much, Withdrawing or feeling isolated, Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge, and displaying extreme mood swings.

To help older adults who are not at immediate risk for suicide but about whom you are concerned, you can take these steps:

  • Talk with the individual in a supportive and caring way.
  • Encourage the individual to see a mental health professional, and offer to provide him or her with a referral.
  • Suggest that the individual connect with family or friends who can provide ongoing support.
  • Continue to stay in contact with the individual and provide encouragement.

If you feel like the person is in immediate danger of hurting themselves, please do not hesitate to all 911 or bring them to Kingwood Pines Hospital for a free assessment 24/7. Our phone number is 281-404-1001 and our address is 2001 Ladbrook Drive, Kingwood, TX 77339.

Sources:

Suicide Prevention Resource Center. (2015). The Role of Senior Living Community Professionals in Preventing Suicide. Waltham, MA: Education Development Center, Inc.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). WISQARS fatal injury reports, national and regional, 1999–2014. Retrieved from http://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/mortrate10_us.html

Conwell, Y., Van Orden, K., & Caine, E. D. (2011). Suicide in older adults. Psychiatric Clinics Of North America, 34(2), 451-468.

Beeston, D. (2006). Older people and suicide. Staffordshire, UK: Staffordshire University, Centre for Ageing and Mental Health.