September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, which aims to raise awareness for the growing problem of suicide in the United States by providing information on warning signs and connecting those in need to resources.
According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide rates have been rising in nearly every state including among older adults. The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy reports that while older adults make up just 12 percent of the population, they account for 18 percent of all suicide deaths.
There are several stress factors and health conditions that put older adults at greater risk for suicide. The following are some of the potential risk factors:
- Depression – More than two million Americans over age 65 suffer from some form of depression, which is not a normal part of the aging process and should be treated.
- Loss of a loved one – One third of widows/widowers meet the criteria for depression in the first month after the death of their spouse, and half of these individuals remain clinically depressed after one year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
- Chronic health conditions – Symptoms of depression can be triggered by chronic illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, heart disease and cancer.
- Social isolation – Lack of contact with peers and feelings of loneliness can increase symptoms of depression and suicide risk.
Depression and suicidal ideation can be difficult topics to discuss but it’s important to have a conversation with a loved one you are worried about. Here are some tips for how to help a loved one at risk for suicide.
- Ask – If you are worried that someone you care about may have depression or is at risk for suicide, ask them if you they are thinking about suicide.
- Listen- Take the time to listen to them if they talk about feeling down, depressed or have thoughts of suicide. Your loved one may be more willing to seek help if you have listened carefully to them.
- Get help- Help connect your loved one with the mental health support they need.
If your loved one mentions thoughts of suicide, take it seriously. Let them know that you care, and you understand and get professional help immediately. Assist your loved one by contacting a mental health professional or contacting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).