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Mental Health Awareness: Depression and Suicide Among the Elderly

Mental Health Awareness: Depression and Suicide Among the Elderly

Do you experience feelings of hopelessness? Have you lost pleasure in activities you once enjoyed? Do you cry more frequently? Have you gained or lost weight? If you have experienced a combination of these symptoms, which have persisted for two weeks or more you may be suffering from depression.

One in five Americans live with a mental health condition–or 43.7 million people. 6.9% of adults–16 million people–have experienced a major depressive episode in the last year. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death, the 3rd leading cause of death for those aged 10–24, and the 2nd leading cause of death for those aged 15-24 (statistics from the National Alliance of Mental Illness).

For the elderly, depression affects 6.5 million of the 35 million adults over the age of 65. The senior population accounts for 20% of all suicides, the highest success rate belongs to senior men. Depression is the leading factor to seniors attempting suicide. Those statistics are staggering and chances are either you or someone you know suffers from depression or another mental health condition.

May is National Mental Health Awareness month. A month dedicated to raising awareness for mental illness, providing educational resources, as well as reducing the stigma attached to mental illness. Take some time to recognize the warning signs of depression as well as the signs of suicide.

Warning Signs of Depression:

  • Persistent sadness
  • Loss of interest
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Decrease in energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increase or decrease in appetite
  • Thoughts of death, dying or suicide
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements

If your or your loved one exhibits these warning signs of depression, seek medical and professional help. Depression is not a normal sign of aging and there are treatment options available.

In addition to the warning signs of depression, it is important to pay attention for the following behaviors (suicide warning signs from SAVE- Suicide Awareness Voices of Education).

Warning Signs of Suicide:

  • Talk about suicide, e.g. “I have nothing left to live for.” “I won’t be a burden on my family much longer.” “I should just kill myself.” Statements of hopelessness, helplessness or worthlessness.
  • Preoccupation with death.
  • Suddenly happier, calmer.
  • Loss of interest in things one cares about.
  • Unusual visiting or calling people one cares about – saying goodbyes.
  • Making arrangements; setting one’s affairs in order.
  • Giving things away.
  • Stockpiling pills or obtaining a weapon.
  • Refusal to follow doctor-prescribed medications and/or special diet.

If you suspect your loved one is considering suicide the most important thing you can do is to talk with them. Here are a few steps you can take if you are concerned for your loved one.

1. Ask Questions. Talking about suicide may seem counter-intuitive. Many people are afraid to ask a loved one whether or not they are thinking about suicide. However, talking with your loved one is the most important thing you can do to assess their thoughts and where they stand. Here are four important questions to help evaluate your loved one’s suicide risk:

  • “Do you ever think about suicide?”
  • “If you were to hurt yourself, how would you do it?” (The plan/method).
  • “Have you thought about when you would do it?” (The timeline).
  • “Do you have access to what you would use?” (Access to method).

2. Provide Reassurance. If your loved one is actively considering suicide they need to feel heard and understood. Don’t shame them for their thoughts and feelings. Instead, reassure them that there is help and treatment options available.

4. Remove Suicide Method. Remove any apparent methods for committing suicide, such as weapons or stockpiled pills.

3. Seek Treatment. Help your loved one seek medical and mental health treatment. Immediately, assist your loved one in setting up appointments for a medical evaluation and help your loved one get to the appointment.

There is hope, depression can be treated and suicide can be prevented. Know the warning signs and seek treatment options.


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