Who do you think are at the greatest risk for death by suicide in our nation? Youth, right? Wrong. According to the Center for Suicide Prevention seniors are at the greatest risk of dying by suicide. Really? Shocking, right? The perception tends to be that youth are at the greatest risk. Although we need to be actively concerned about our youth, and it’s a positive step that youth suicide prevention has received a lot of attention in the media, we need to be careful that we do not overlook the risks that affect the aging population.
Did you know:
- “People 65 years and older, particularly men, have the highest suicide rate of any other group” (Center for Suicide Prevention)
- “The baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) have had higher suicide rates than previous generations. They are amoungst the largest population cohorts in Canada and have just begun entering the 65 and over age range. This could translate into a tremendous increase in suicides in the coming years.” (Canadian Coalition for Mental Health, 2008)
- “Men 65 and older have the highest suicide rate in Canada. Men 90 years and older have the highest rate of all.” (Statistics Canada, 2008)
- “The focus might often be on young people, but the highest rate of…suicide in Canada is among men over the age of 80.” (CTV News)
- “Every week, 10 seniors over the age of 60 die by suicide in Canada. But their deaths rarely grab the media spotlight.” (CTV News)
The 65+ population are also much more likely to die by suicide as opposed to those who attempt suicide but survive.
Why are suicide rates higher in seniors?
Some of the possible reasons may include:
- Less likely to talk about suicide and suicidal thoughts
- Inability to cope with accumulated losses; for example the death of a spouse, retirement from the workforce, reduced quality of life/health complications, loss of independence, etc.
- The awareness of seniors as a risk group is low, which means the general population may not typically be intentional about watching for warning signs
Unfortunately, death by suicide is not investigated to the same degree with seniors as it is with youth, so the reasons why seniors die by suicide are less clear. Also, because there are less attempted suicides in seniors compared to those who die, there are less people to talk to about why they may consider suicide.
What can you do?
Check in with seniors. Spend quality time together.
Remind seniors they are valued. Listen to their stories. Involve them in your life.
Encourage seniors to get involved in helping others, or something they are interested in. A person can make an impact on another individual even when they are bed ridden. They have history, knowledge, perspective, and more. Learn from our seniors.
Read CTV’s article: Suicide among seniors a real but overlooked problem
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