Senior citizens susceptible to suicide

As we age, it's easy to become more isolated, which can lead to depression.



September 14, 2021 - 11:27 AM

A police officer chats with a homebound senior citizen while doing a senior-citizen check Friday. During the COVID-19 pandemic, more seniors are self-isolating, which can lead to depression. Photo by Joshua A. Bickel/Dispatch

September is National Suicide Prevention month. Suicide isn’t something we actively discuss even though it is a serious public health issue that leaves a lasting impact on families and communities. Between 1999 and 2019, the suicide death rate increased 33%.

Barbara Stockebrand

Senior citizens are particularly vulnerable to suicide. Suicide is a direct reflection of mental illness — another topic often swept under the rug, especially for older adults. 

Older adults may simultaneously experience multiple factors contributing to depression, such as: chronic medical illness or pain, loss of physical functioning, prior depressive episodes, reliving bad experiences, recent loss, and dementia to name a few.  

Other risk factors include social isolation and loneliness and a family history. Living a distance from family while trying to cope with the death of a lifelong spouse, close family or friends, can be a struggle. 

Suicide rates among older adults are underreported because many use passive self-harm behaviors such as refusing food, medications or liquids. These paths are much less obvious than a medication overdose, for example. 

A person who is at risk of suicide is rarely clear of their intentions. Such an individual is experiencing a pain that is difficult to talk about. Signs of suicidal thoughts or tendencies can include increased feelings of anxiety and hopelessness, withdrawal from people or activities they ordinarily enjoy, negative thoughts or a preoccupation with death, strong feelings of guilt or low self-esteem. These and other signs may be recognized by staying in tune through casual conversation, paying attention to the content of letters and notes or noting changes in actions or behaviors.

Rushing to create or change wills or other legal documents can sometimes be an indication of a wish for life to end. While we should all take the legal steps necessary to make sure our end-of-life wishes are met, when discussions dwell on these things, take time to what’s really behind these discussions.

As we age, we are bound to experience sad periods. We need to recognize we can recover from those periods and that sometimes those feelings need to be targeted by professionals. None of us should feel like we are swimming in the middle of the ocean with no life preserver.  

Day-to-day activities we can do to improve our mental health include regular exercise, good nutrition, taking medications as prescribed, contact with other people, staying hydrated, and regular visits with primary care providers.  

We should all assess our own mental health on a regular basis. Do not hesitate to visit with your care provider if there is something you can’t seem to process on your own. He/she may help in determining if it is a physical or medication related effect you are experiencing. If those pieces to the puzzle are ruled out, then seek out the advice of a mental health professional.

If you or someone you know may be experiencing suicidal tendencies, contact Southeast Kansas Mental Health with offices in Humboldt, Iola, Chanute, Fort Scott, Pleasanton and Yates Center. Other resources are available at The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255.