Suicide in the Elderly
There is a special challenge in addressing suicide among the elderly where the annual suicide rate is higher than other age groups. Moreover, elder suicide may be significantly under-reported. Not counted are "silent suicides," such as deaths from overdoses, self-starvation or dehydration, and "accidents." Double suicides involving spouses or partners occur most frequently among the aged.
An obstacle faced by mental health professionals and other caregivers in reaching this group is that older adults do not usually seek treatment for mental health problems. As such, family and friends can play an important role in prevention.
Characteristics of high risk are increasing age, being a white male, and being divorced. The strongest risk factor appears to be a major psychiatric disorder at the time of death, as major depression is very often associated with suicide in later life. Most elder suicide victims either live with relatives or are in regular contact with family or friends, and this implies that depression is more a factor than social isolation. Misuse of alcohol in combination with a psychiatric illness is also a risk. All of these factors can be further intensified by medical illness, family discord, financial trouble, physical disability, unrelieved pain, loss and grief.
Problems with public notions of what is, and is not, acceptable with regard to suicide, and the belief that old age equals depression, contribute to the lack of appropriate treatment of suicidal behavior and disorders among the elderly. The family can contribute to the risk--or to the reduction--and treatment of suicidal older adults.
A trained mental health practitioner, such as a family therapist, who is experienced with handling issues of the elderly, including depression and high risk for suicide, can offer services to help the suffering older adult, as well as assist the family as they cope with various issues surrounding the problem.
Studies show that brief therapy can be very beneficial, and even more so when combined with medication for depressive disorders. Over 80% of geriatric patients in one study recovered from depression when treated with this approach.