September is National Suicide Prevention month. In El Paso County 1,938 people committed suicide from 2004 to 2018, about 45% of them were over 45 years old (Colorado Health Information Dataset). Adult suicide is a prevalent problem in our community that is often overlooked. This may be because of the myth that depression is a part of getting older. On the contrary, our older years can be some of the best of our lives. So why do we continue to see significant suicide rates among older adults? When we look at the contributing factors to suicide in this older adult demographic, we can get some answers. Some of the top circumstances that have contributed to suicide deaths among the 65 and older population include: a contributing physical health problem, current depressed mood, ever having been treated for a mental health problem, and a crisis two weeks prior to death. We know that many older adults are at risk of physical health problems and crises such as a fall, or loss of their spouse that could contribute to their depressed mood. Factors that help older adults be resilient to depression and suicidal ideation are social connectedness, care for mental health and physical health problems, and skills in coping and adapting to change.
Neighbors are often the first defense in keeping older adult neighbors safe. You may see your neighbor every day/week so you can notice differences in mood and activity that could signal depression or suicidal ideation. A helpful acronym from the American Association of Suicidology for remembering suicide warning signs is “IS PATH WARM”. This acronym stands for:
S Substance abuse
M Mood changes
If you suspect an older adult you know may be suicidal, Silver Key’s SOS program is a fantastic resource. Silver Key SOS is a program to help support older adults that may be at risk. You can call the program at 719-884-2345, and a Silver Key SOS case manager will speak to the senior to determine the need and willingness for help. Learn more about the program here: https://www.silverkey.org/services/senior-assistance/silver-key-sos/
If someone in your life seems suicidal it is a good practice to ask them questions, “Are you thinking of hurting yourself?”, “Are you suicidal?”, “Do you have a plan to kill yourself?”. These questions will not push someone into doing something self-destructive but can be a needed opportunity to talk without judgement. If they are suicidal and planning on hurting themselves, you should call 9-1-1 as the person may need to be hospitalized until the suicidal crisis passes. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.
Learn more here:
The Suicide Prevention Resource Center: https://www.sprc.org/populations/older-adults
The American Association of Suicidology: https://suicidology.org/
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
National Alliance on Mental Illness, Colorado Springs: https://namicoloradosprings.org/