Who is at Risk for Suicide in our Older Adults: What to look for

By Leslie Sessley, LCSW

 Do you know an older person who has suffered from depression? Have they experienced increasing social isolation in recent years, the death of loved ones, or feelings of hopelessness? If the answer is yes, they may be at risk for suicidal thoughts or actions.

The topic of suicide is one that affects people of all ages, genders and ethnicity. All people can be at risk for suicide, but there are certain characteristic that may attribute to a person being more at risk than others. For example, individuals experiencing depression, mental health disorders or substance abuse may put a person at greater risk.

According to statistics, elders are 13% of the overall population, but make up 18% of suicides. Within this category, white males have the highest suicide rate, but of those reported, suicides are more common in women.  Mental health disorders are a factor in this area. In fact, 15- 20% of older adults have experienced depression and more than  20% of adults 65 years and older meet criteria for a mental health disorder.

So how do you know if the elder in your life is dealing with this issue?

Suicidal Red Flags:

  • Not taking care of their health (over drinking, not taking care of dietary restrictions)– passive suicide
  • Expressing suicide ideation
  • Personality factors: ridged combined with loss and stress, low openness to new experiences, isolation,
  • They own a firearm – 70% of elders commit suicide from firearms
  • Lack of support from family or friends
  • Expressing feeling like a burden

If you have an elder family member or friend who is identify suicidal signals, it is important that you do not ignore this behavior but take them seriously and get them help. Suicidal thoughts are often a symptom of depression and should be addressed.

How do you help them- The Do’s and Don’ts?

  1. Learn about suicide warning signs and how to support your loved one
  2. Take seriously conversations where someone expresses not wanting to live

— DO learn the clues to a potential suicide and take them seriously.

  • DO ask directly if he or she is thinking about suicide.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask. It will not cause someone to be suicidal or commit suicide. You will usually get an honest answer. But don’t act shocked, since this will put distance between you. (Some people may deny feeling suicidal but may still be very depressed and need help. You can encourage them to seek professional help for their depression. It’s treatable.)
  • DO get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.
  • DON’T taunt or dare him or her to do it. This “common remedy” could have fatal results.
  • DO be non-judgmental. Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or feelings are good or bad. Don’t lecture on the value of life.
  • DON’T be sworn to secrecy. Seek support. Get help from persons or agencies that specialize in crisis intervention and suicide prevention. Also seek the help of the older person’s social support network: his or her family, friends, physician, clergy, etc.

If you know an elder who is struggling with suicidal thoughts or depression get them help today.


The Link’s NRC is a leading resource in the country for suicide prevention and aftercare. It is dedicated to reaching out to those whose lives have been impacted by suicide and connecting them to available resources. Families who have experienced a loss through suicide receive unparalleled support while they grieve.

  • The Link’s NRC offers:
  • Grief Consultations for individuals and families
  • Survivors of Suicide Support Groups (SOS)
  • Resource Library & Educational Materials
  • Community Programs throughout the year (see Special Events)

Contact information:          http://thelink.org/nrc.htm


For more information about dealing with elder adults follow us on Facebook at Leslie Sessley, LCSW.

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