I wrote a few months ago about a women who committed suicide in her home, the day it was to be auctioned off.
Sadly, a 90 year old Ohio woman attempted suicide this week, as police was knocking at her door, in order to evict her. Her home was in foreclosure.
This has made me think about suicide in the elderly - not a rare event by any stretch of the imagination.
Suicide amongst the elderly is disproportionately high. While people over 65 account for only 13% of the population, they account for almost 20% of suicides.
Every 90 minutes, an elderly person commits suicide.
(Source: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control)
There are many reasons our elderly commit suicide. They may already have lost spouses, siblings and friends and feel isolated and afraid. This current economic crisis is certainly affecting our elderly, many of whom are on a fixed income. They cannot go out and get a job like somebody younger. They may have been retired for several decades, long before computerization, and lack the skills necessary to land a job. They also may suffer from ill health or various disabilities that prevent earning income. And we certainly couldn't expect a 90 year old woman to go out to work to save her home.
The elderly grew up in a time where one didn't talk about one's feelings, particularly negative feelings. They were raised in an era where they were told to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get on with life. Telling someone that they need help is seen as a sign of weakness.
We have seen the stigma of mental illness (including depression) slowly lift by increased awareness and education. But this stigma is still very much alive in our elderly, who most certainly lived in an era where mentally ill people were locked away or ignored.
So how can we know if someone we care about is depressed or may be thinking about suicide?
For starters, we can ask them. Not directly, necessarily, as many elderly are proud and private about this aspect of their lives. But indirect questions like 'how are you feeling?' and 'is there anything I can do for you?' certainly cannot hurt. Gentle suggestions and subtle financial inquires can give the elderly the opportunity to open up about issues they may have.
There are also signs, some quiet, some more obvious. Talk about death or being ready to get it over with. Talk about having lived a good life and being ready to leave it. Lamenting the loss of a spouse and talking about wanting to see him or her again soon. Overuse of alcohol or hoarding medications that could be used to end life. And an elderly person facing financial difficulties should be assisted as soon as possible. Many were children of the Depression where debt and poverty was a sudden and immediate threat to their young lives. Our country is now in a similar situation, that it has not seen since the 1930s. This can seem overwhelming to someone who lived through it once, as a helpless child, and may have to live through it again, as an equally helpless older person with no means of increasing their income.
Of course, by no means all of our elderly are living in debt or unable to talk to someone about feelings of depression or helplessness. Many elderly nowadays are living active, healthy and happy lives. But many are facing real issues, and we need to look out for them now, more than ever.
For more information about suicide and the elderly, visit Suicide.org at
and for the deaf and hard of hearing:
How are the elderly people in your life coping with today's economic turmoil? Has the issue of suicide in the elderly touched your life?
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