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Suicide Prevention in the Elderly

Suicide Prevention in the Elderly

“A 94 year old woman jumped from her balcony in Gurugram and died.”, “A 68 year old man hailing from Pune became the fourth person in the city to die by suicide.”, “In Punjab a 65-year-old woman died by suicide.”

Reasons- Old age and health problems, Fear of COVID 19, Concerns on infecting children

These are a few snippets from the news that have been circulating lately and have highlighted a trend of suicide in older adults. Although this issue has existed since many years but the current pandemic has made us notice it even more. Apart from the fear of contracting the illness, there are several other risk factors particularly associated with older adults which make them more susceptible to suicide.

  • Depression- Mental health issues can range from chronic stress to serious concerns like Depression and Anxiety. A person with depression is more likely to experience thoughts related to hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness. An individual’s risk for suicide increases manifold if they feel that there is no other way out.
  • Loneliness- loneliness is one of the main concerns amongst the elderly. Loss of a spouse or friends may lead to a sense of loneliness. In many other cases, “empty nesters” also experience loneliness after the children move out of their parental homes.
  • Physical illness- Ageing brings with it a myriad of health issues. Most common amongst them are problems related to slowing down of organ functioning. Many a times, older adults face difficulty in accepting this and start experiencing negative thoughts related to health. This makes them more prone to engaging in self harming behaviour.
  • Mobility issues- Issues with mobility and inability of carry out day-to-day activities makes the elderly more dependent. Thoughts related to loss of independence and feelings of being a burden may occur in such cases.

What are the Warning Signs?

It is not always true that a person needs to be depressed or suffering from a mental illness to experience suicidal thoughts. There are several behavioural indicators which can be identified when a person becomes suicidal. These are

  • Verbalization of hopelessness and worthlessness
  • Expressing the feeling of being a burden
  • Social withdrawal/ isolating themselves
  • Altered sleeping/ eating habits
  • Crying spells
  • Stockpiling medication
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Revising of a Will
  • Saying goodbye to loved ones

How can Suicides in the Elderly be prevented?

Caregivers and family members need to consider the following:

  • Watch out for the “warning signs” as mentioned above. Any significant change in behaviour, thoughts and emotions expressed needs to be taken seriously
  • Try and stay connected with the older family members. In case face-to-face interaction is not practical, other means of communication like audio/ video calls or social media maybe be utilised for this purpose.
  • Do not shy away from asking if they are experiencing thoughts of suicide/ self harm. Since expressing these thoughts is often difficult for an individual, asking them directly would open a channel for communication and help them express themselves.
  • Focus should be on active engagement of the older adults. Ageing does not mean that one cannot do any pleasurable activities. Engaging in hobbies, maintaining a routine of adequate diet, hydration, exercise and sleep is equally important.
  • Encourage regular visits to primary care providers. Seeking professional help from mental health professionals like psychiatrists and psychologists is advisable.

Always remember “SUICIDE IS PREVENTABLE”. We can help our seniors in living a healthy and happy life. This means helping them live a more productive and active life. Also, we need to be vigilant of the warning signs in the elderly. If you notice them exhibiting these signs, you must be alert and seek professional help as early as possible.

Samvedna Care has been ensuring proper care of the elderly since 2013. Our team of eldercare experts, social workers, and psychologists work day in and out to make certain the proper physical and emotional health of the elderly, remotely. We offer counselling for depression in elderly, psychological assessments for elderly and provide elder care services for senior citizens with special needs. Samvedna care experts are always there for you and your loved ones.

By Meenakshi Chopra, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, MPhil(IHBAS), Samvedna Care

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