One brisk December day in 2010, three days after my best girlfriend’s 50th birthday, her 78 year-old father made the decision to end his life. He took his pistol out of the case, put the barrel to his head and pulled the trigger. There was no suicide note, and he had not spoken of suicide before, to his family’s recollection. He was just gone…the end.
It was not the end for my friend or her family, though. Each family member grieved their loss individually, but none more so than his daughter. They had endured a tumultuous daddy-daughter relationship, at times, but deep down, she truly loved him. As my best friend, I know she continues to grieve the loss of her Dad, and she still wonders why he did it, to this day.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
In 2019, the National Public Radio Organization [NPR] reported, “Across the country, suicide rates have been on the rise, and that rise has struck the nation's seniors particularly hard. Of the more than 47,000 suicides that took place in 2017, those 65 and up accounted for more than 8,500 of them, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Men who are 65 and older face the highest risk of suicide, while adults 85 and older, regardless of gender, are the second most likely age group to die from suicide.”
In the age of COVID-19, the likelihood that seniors who live alone or are homebound will feel especially isolated, lonely and depressed increases exponentially.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness [NAMI] has outlined warning signs and ways we can all help prevent suicide among seniors, most especially senior men.
If my friend’s family had been aware of the warning signs of depression and had entertained the possibility that he might be suicidal, the outcome may have been much different. Pay close attention to seniors if they exhibit these potentially suicidal traits:
- Avoidance of family, friends and social activities
- Difficulty understanding and relating to people
- Changes in sleeping habits and energy levels
- Changes in eating habits, such as increased hunger or lack of appetite
- Excessive worrying or fear
- Feeling extremely sad or low
- Confused thinking, or problems concentrating and learning
- Extreme mood changes
- Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger
- Abuse of substances like alcohol or drugs
- Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes (such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing “aches and pains”)
- Thoughts of suicide
- Inability to perform daily activities or handle problems and stress*
What You Can Do to Help
- Remove means such as guns, knives or stock-piled pills
- Calmly ask simple and direct questions, such as “Can I help you call your psychiatrist?” rather than, “Would you rather I call your psychiatrist, your therapist or your case manager?”
- Talk openly and honestly about suicide. Don’t be afraid to ask questions such as “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” or “Do you have a plan for how you would kill yourself?”
- Ask what you can do to help
- Don’t argue, threaten or raise your voice
- Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong
- If your loved one asks for something, provide it, as long as the request is safe and reasonable
- If you are nervous, try not to fidget or pace
- If your loved one is having hallucinations or delusions, be gentle and sympathetic, but do not get in an argument about whether the delusions or hallucinations are real
September is National Suicide Awareness Month, and September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day. If you know a troubled senior or one struggling with depression, and you recognize one or more of the warning signs outlined above, I am happy to offer beneficial resources in our area during a FREE consultation and assessment of the situation.
There is no obligation to enlist Home Helpers® services, but it may, in fact, enlighten you to discover the many ways a compassionate caregiver can provide companion care for seniors and assist in ways that will lift their spirits by keeping them engaged, helping them feel safe, loved, cared for, and less alone. Companionship can reduce the risk of depression and minimize thoughts of suicide among seniors.
We, at Home Helpers® Clearwater, are honored to have received the Home Care Pulse – Best of Home Care® Provider of Choice Award for 2017, 2018, 2019 & 2020. We proudly serve male and female seniors in Clearwater, Dunedin, Palm Harbor, Safety Harbor, Tarpon Springs, Holiday, New Port Richey, Trinity, Port Richey, Hudson and surrounding areas. Home Helpers®…we are Making Life Easier℠ 727.942.2539
National Public Radio Organization
National Alliance on Mental Illness [NAMI]
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention