Suicide among the Elderly: Risks and Reasons

By Duane Hewitt

Suicide in our aging population of seniors and the elderly is on the rise. Why? Some of the reasons can be specific to the individual, but there are a number of standard risks to watch for if we are to help. The more common causes that can lead to suicidal thoughts in one of advancing years can include:

Health Problems: As the body ages, health problems are likely to arise. This might center on physical health but mental and emotional health issues can also strike at any time. As we age, the body begins its process of decline, and thus health challenges can occur.

Financial Loss: This often relates to job loss and other money problems. When a person is young, losing wealth can be difficult but in our younger years we have opportunities to rebuild that capital since time is on our side. In later life, losing money and a source of income can be devastating. There generally isn’t time to rebuild.

Feeling Shut-out or Shut-in: In a person’s later years, a senior might find themselves feeling like they’re alone in the world and that nobody wants them. Such feelings of isolation can lead to loneliness and despair – thus contributing to suicidal thoughts. Compounding this, an elderly person who is confined for physical reasons won’t be able to move about freely and socialize.

Loss of Independence: As people age, they often lose their freedom; that ability to get out and do as they wish. This loss of independence can be monumentally difficult and it most often stems from aging issues.

Loss of Loved Ones: This can include dealing with the death of a lifelong partner or the difficulties that accompany separation and divorce. But it can also come from being disregarded by family and others.

Loss of Perspective: As one grows old, an individual may not have a complete view of the fullness of their life or the many joys they’ve experienced. This “cloistered” perspective can do much to create sadness when, in fact, that same senior should be celebrating a life well lived.

Experiencing a Crisis: During our lifetimes, it’s likely that we will all experience one or more crises as we age. Troubles are an unfortunate part of life and those calamities can create toxic, negative thoughts and emotions.

Living and Housing Issues: Economic and demographic problems related to living and housing can add to a senior’s stresses with challenges that have become increasingly common. We all need somewhere to lay our head and call home. In old age, no one should have to worry about how or where they will live.

Substance Abuse: Substance abuse can affect the elderly as much as any other age group. It might be related to something like alcohol but can also show itself through a dependence on pain killers or illicit drugs. Such substances are generally self-administered as coping mechanisms for other issues.

Loss of Purpose: When purpose, identity, and values fall into question or fall to the wayside, a senior might lose track of what has always been important to them. It is then that melancholy feelings and depression are likely to set in. We all need purpose and we must all honor who we are. When these things are gone, we lose sight of any reason for living.

Having insight into the various reasons for suicide, particularly when it concerns the elderly, is vitally important in being able to help someone in jeopardy. Being aware of such risks can enable each of us to be watchful and therefore helpful of our seniors and elderly. Copyright 2019 Duane Hewitt

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