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Suicide and Depression in the Elderly

Although it is widely believed that suicide more often affects young people, older adults are affected by suicide, too. Suicide rates increase with age and are high among those 65 years and older. Up to 75 percent of elderly suicide victims are seen by their primary care provider a few weeks prior to their suicide attempt and diagnosed with their first episode of mild to moderate depression.
Adults ages 65 and older accounted for about 17 percent of the roughly 30,000 suicide deaths in the United States in 2003. Among the highest rates (when categorized by gender and race) were seen in white men ages 85 and older. Among this group, there were 59 deaths per 100,000 persons in 2000, or more than five times the national rate of 10.6 per 100,000.

Final Thoughts on Depression and Suicide

If someone tells you they are thinking about suicide, you should take their distress seriously, listen nonjudgmentally, and help them get to a professional for evaluation and treatment. People consider suicide when they are hopeless and unable to see alternative solutions to problems.
Suicidal behavior is most often related to a mental disorder, such as depression, alcohol abuse, or other substance abuse. This behavior is also more likely to occur when people experience stressful events, such as the loss of a loved one.
If someone is in imminent danger of harming himself or herself, do not leave the person alone. You may need to take emergency steps to get help, such as calling 911. When someone is in a suicidal crisis, it is important to limit access to firearms or other lethal means of committing suicide.
Finally, if you are thinking about suicide, get help immediately:
  • Call your doctor's office
  • Call 911 for emergency services
  • Go to the emergency room of the nearest hospital
  • Ask a family member or friend to take you to the hospital or call your doctor
  • Call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) to be connected to a trained counselor at the suicide crisis center nearest you.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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