Suicide and depression are major issues among seniors

By Wendy Johnstone
October 9, 2014

The pain was so unbearable, that had there been a shotgun in the house, I would have put myself out of misery.”

For some of us, reading such a statement might surprise, horrify or shock us.

Yet, thoughts about and committing suicide among seniors is more common than most people think.

Take Robin Williams’ suicide for example or the double suicide of the elderly couple in their late eighties from Toronto.

Canadian statistics from 2008 show seniors experiencing depression have a suicide rate five times higher than that of any other age group. Men 65 years and over are especially at high risk for suicide; twice the rate of all suicides in Canada.

Each year, at least 1,000 Canadian seniors are admitted to hospitals due to actions of self-harm. Many experts in the field would argue suicide attempts are underestimated as there are likely many older adults who harm themselves but are not admitted to hospital.

It may be difficult for family and friends to know there is cause for concern. Older adults typically don’t talk about thoughts of suicide or depression. If they are living alone, there is less chance of revival if suicide is attempted and seniors tend to use more lethal methods.

There are warning signs. The Centre for Suicide Prevention lists the following signs to watch for:

Although World Suicide Prevention Day has come and gone, I think it’s important that we talk about such “less than sunny” topics. Working with seniors on a daily basis, I can empathize with how difficult life can be. I remember having a very candid conversation one day with my grandmother about how difficult it was for her to get up in the mornings.

She said, to me, “I’ve lost my vision and I’ve lost my hearing, which means I can no longer read, fully enjoy classical music, play cards with my friends or sew. I’ve also lost my husband and many of my friends. Most days, I feel like I’d be better off six feet underground.”

This was a woman who was surrounded by loving family and still had some purpose in her role as a grandmother. She practised healthy behaviours and still socialized as best as she could.

Not all seniors have strategies or the supports to help them when they need it most.

If you are concerned about an aging loved one or if as a senior you are looking for support, the BC Crisis Centre has a Seniors’ Distress Line at 604-872-1234. It operates 24/7 and trained volunteers are at the end of the telephone line to help.

The Canadian Coalition for Senior Mental Health also has some helpful tools and information related to seniors and their well-being at http://www.ccsmh.ca/en/booklet/index.cfm.

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