With information from the Promoting Emotional Health and Preventing Suicide Toolkit, presented by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, we’ve created this printable resource that you can hang in different areas of your senior living community to remind your staff of the warnings signs they should know and the actions they need to take to save at-risk residents from senior suicide.
Why Is the Suicide Rate So High For Seniors?
The most recent statistics from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) show that the suicide rate for adults 65 and older is 16.6%. Isolate just the men in that same age group, and the rate jumps to 30.9%. In comparison, the suicide rate of individuals 15- to 64-years-old is 12.5%.
Depression in older adults and senior suicide is a serious cause for concern, especially for those living in senior living communities. Seniors are in a higher risk group due to many aspects of their lifestyle. In general, they may suffer from social isolation, illness or pain, and family loss more often, which can lead to depression. An increased suicide rate can also be attributed to the following:
- Seniors are less likely to report serious thoughts of suicide
- Seniors plan carefully and are less impulsive
- Seniors use more deadly methods
- Seniors are more physically frail, making recovery less likely
Immediate Warning Signs of Senior Suicide
- Threatening or talking about wanting to kill or hurt him/herself
- Looking for ways to kill him/herself
- Talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide
We need to take these warning signs very seriously when we hear seniors talking or acting like this!
Secondary Warning Signs of Senior Suicide
- Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
- Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge
- Recklessness and/or engaging in risky activities without thinking
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increased alcohol or drug use
- Withdrawing from family, friends or society
- Anxiety and/or agitation
- Sleep disruption (unable to sleep or sleeping all the time)
- Dramatic changes in mood
- Expressing no reason for living and/or no sense of purpose in life
If a resident in your care attempts suicide, you should immediately:
- Call 9-1-1
- Call his/her physician
- Call his/her family
A resident who attempts suicide may require hospitalization and evaluation. When they return to your community, your staff should support the individual by:
- Keeping a close watch on this resident, during every shift, for changes in his/her state of mind.
- Engaging the resident in activities that will keep his/her mind and body active, such as fitness classes, taking walks, and social activities that encourage a connection with friends.
If a suicide occurs in your facility, take these steps to support any residents who may be feeling an impact:
- Allow residents to grieve the loss of their friend, don’t encourage them to hide or suppress their feelings.
- Offer sessions with the Chaplain during which they can discuss any feelings of hopelessness or isolation.
- Stress an open door policy where residents feel comfortable approaching members of your care team at any time.
The approaching holiday season can be a difficult time for some residents. They may be grieving the loss of a spouse, have family who lives far away, or have friends who recently moved to different communities. This is an important time of year to engage all your residents in activities. Special attention should be given to their religious belief, but everyone can enjoy making cookies or drinking hot chocolate.
You can obtain a free copy of the Promoting Emotional Health and Preventing Suicide Toolkit, presented in a binder with accompanying CD, by contacting SeniorLivingU at 1-800-258-7030. You will only need to pay the shipping costs. The Toolkit is also available as a free download at www.samhsa.com.
Senior Living U also offers In-Service programs dedicated to depression in older adults and dealing with loss and grief.