Suicide Prevention: The unique risk factors of getting older on mental health

Front view of frustrated senior Caucasian  male patient sitting on bed at retirement home. He touches his forehead with hand.
Front view of frustrated senior Caucasian male patient sitting on bed at retirement home. He touches his forehead with hand.

If you’re reading this and struggling with suicidal thoughts, the National Suicidal Prevention Lifeline is available to you 24/7. It’s free and confidential: 1-800-273-8255.

It is estimated that 20% of people aged 55 years or older experience some type of mental health concern, such as bipolar disorder or depression. According to the CDC, men, and women older than 65 are substantially more at risk than any other age group with four times the national suicide rate. Studies have shown an increased risk of morbidity, increased risk of suicide, decreased physical, cognitive and social functioning, and greater self-neglect, all of which are associated with increased mortality. With such an increased risk, it’s important to consider the mental health effects of aging during Suicide Prevention Week.

There are a number of factors involved with why age increases strain on their mental health. Most are linked to a significant ongoing loss in capabilities and decline in functional ability due to aging. But unmet physical and social needs also occurs, typically developing after retirement. These can lead to decreased feelings of independence, which often leads to mental health problems that go undiagnosed. As a result, suicide prevention becomes much harder to access and achieve.

Most importantly though, there are ways to help reduce the risk and strain brought on by age. With the loss of ability to function independently, helping increase the connectedness of aging individuals with their families and communities can dramatically help their ability to cope with old age. It is especially important to make sure that they feel a measure of independence in their life. When it is possible, encourage them to carry out tasks without any help and allow them to make decisions affecting their life. Ensuring that their needs are met, that they feel in control of their life, and they have access to healthcare facilities can make a difference when working to prevent suicide.