Suicide rate is highest in over-65 age group

Suicide among senior citizens is a major health problem, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Many seniors have depression symptoms that are not properly diagnosed which leaves them vulnerable to suicide attempts. Every year, more than 36,000 Americans take their lives, says the CDC.

From all these deaths, the age group with the highest rate of suicide is among those over age 65. Another 465,000 had to have medical treatment because of their failed attempts at killing themselves.

Seniors who tend to try suicide are likely to be white males, suffering from depression, divorce, isolation, low cholesterol, substance abuse, and have a gun to shoot themselves.

Additional factors that may influence a senior to consider suicide include psychiatric illness, being a victim of panic attacks, and a sense of hopelessness.

What to look for

According to the Alliance for Aging Research, easy access to handguns can place seniors at a greater risk of suicide. Statistics show that older people with handguns in their households are more than twice as likely to commit suicide as those without access to firearms. Lethal weapons are the most common method of suicide by the elderly and result in a very high completion rate. By being aware of handguns in the home of an older loved one, family and friends may be able to prevent an imminent suicide.

In today’s economic climate, when many people have seen the value of their homes plunge, when they may have lost their jobs and been without work for several years and have been unable to pay for their children’s education or have seen their children struggling to find work – all can be depressing factors.

It is critical to recognize the signs of depression in the elderly. Sixty to 75 percent of suicide victims age 75 and older have diagnosable clinical depression. Older adults may experience slightly different symptoms than younger depression patients — typical symptoms include anxiety, fatigue, loss of interest in hobbies, isolation, unexplained weight loss, and suicidal thoughts.

As the wave of baby boomers hits old age, the suicide problem is sure to increase because there will be that many more potential candidates.

Resources can help

Professional help is available if you or someone you know is experiencing depression. Seniors have the advantage of medical treatment because they have Medicare.

The Health Resources and Services Department in the Department of Health and Human Services has a center that will care for people even if they have no health insurance.

The Institute on Aging’s Friendship Line offers counseling, support, crisis intervention, referrals, and other information specifically for older adults and their loved ones. Anyone in crisis can call the hotline at (800) 971-0016 – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. For non-crisis support, information, and referrals the hotline is available from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Pacific Time.

A state-by-state guide to local prevention and treatment resources is also helpful and can be found through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at

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