Disclaimer: This topic is a very sensitive one and I have aimed to treat it with the respect it deserves. If you are experiencing feelings of depression and suicide, please do not ignore them. Talk to your GP or one of the services listed at the bottom of this article. You and your well being matters.
Over the past week I have learnt some alarming statistics. Retired, successful older men are one of the largest groups of people who commit suicide. Over all, people aged 70+ are over proportionately represented in these tragic statistics.
Why is this the case?
Dr. Yeates Conwell, a psychiatrist at the University of Rochester Medical Center who has studied late-life suicide explains that while older people make fewer suicide attempts than younger age groups, they are far more likely to die from them. Unlike suicides among young people, older adult suicide is not an impulsive act. Elderly suicide is contemplated for a long period of time.
Depression is the leading cause of the majority of suicide attempts. What causes depression however, can be a myriad of things. Looking at the most ‘at risk’ group, the most typical cause of depression in older men is loss. Men who have attached their sense of identity and value to their work can become depressed in retirement if they can’t successfully transfer that attachment to new interests. When they retire, these men suddenly lose their purpose and self-worth.
Other losses can also compound at this stage at life, including death of a spouse, pet or friend, loss of work relationships and even the potential loss of self can become extremely difficult to manage. Things that remove older people from their social groups — bereavement, retirement, isolation — leave them vulnerable,” Dr. Conwell said.
Beyond depression and other mental illnesses, researchers have identified a cluster of other risk factors in late-life suicide, including physical illness and pain, the inability to function in daily life and the fear of becoming a burden. Fears surrounding the ability to maintain an independent living status can produce enormous anxiety, especially when the older person values autonomy above all else.
Ageism is the leading cause of older people not going for help. Many family members just think getting old and ‘grumpy’ is a part of life. Many older people may feel they don’t matter or don’t deserve help. They may feel like they should just ‘put up with it’ as they may have felt like this on and off through their lives or don’t want to be a ‘nuisance’ to the doctor. A lot of older people have problems with asking for help.
What to look out for:
There are many behavioural changes that may happen to you or your loved one that you can keep an eye on. These include:
- Sleep problems, either sleeping too much or too little,
- Eating problem
- Deep ongoing sadness
- Unexplained anger
- Continually feeling worn down or flat
- Loss of interest in things
- Thoughts of suicide and inability to control these thoughts
- Alcohol and drug misuse
- Neglecting oneself
- Feeling useless and feeling cast adrift.
What can you do?
There are many things you can do to stop a loved one getting to this stage. The main one would be keeping in regular contact with them and staying involved in their life. A walk with a friend or any form of exercise will help release endorphin’s in the brain that will serve as a little ‘pick me up’ if that is all that is needed. Asking someone you are concerned about to open up about how they are feeling, if not to you, then a GP or counsellor can help – they say a problem shared is a problem halved. Helping your loved one realise they are worthy of help and encouraging them to reach out if they need it is essential.
If you yourself are feeling depressed or suicidal, do not hesitate to reach out to to someone. You are worthy of help and there are always people who are willing to listen to you.
Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 25/7)
You can also text 4202 or email via their website
If someone does make comments about wanting to hurt or kill themselves, these should be taken seriously and emergency services or mental health services should be contacted immediately.
Crisis assessment and treatment teams provide 24-hour, seven-days-a-week assessment and short-term treatment services for people experiencing a serious mental health crisis. Contact your local Mental Health Services immediately.
Things can and do get better and you do not have to continue to feel this way. You deserve to enjoy life to it’s fullest extent.