They are phrases that strike fear into the hearts of many men: “Talking about our feelings…” “Going to see a doctor…,” and “Asking for help…” But, it is precisely this reluctance to reach out that is fueling a silent epidemic of older male suicide, particularly among Caucasian males over the age of 70. Few people are aware that the suicide rate for Caucasian men in this age group is more than double the nation’s overall rate. For Caucasian men 85 years and older, the rate is four times higher.
Depression is the most prominent risk factor for suicide among older adults, but it often goes unnoticed and undiagnosed. Depression may be due to a drastic life change, loss or health condition, but it is not a normal part of aging. Experts note that older adults become particularly vulnerable to depression if they are disconnected from social groups due to the loss of a spouse, retirement or isolation.
So, what can we do?
Looking out for our loved ones and broaching the topic of depression is one way we can help to normalize mental health concerns and make it more likely that others will open up about their challenges.
Encourage loved ones to seek help if you recognize any of the following signs of concern:
Signs of Crisis
Call 9-1-1, or seek immediate help when you hear or see any one of these behaviors:
The more that we as a community can openly discuss mental health concerns and encourage one another to seek help and support, the more we can prevent the tragic losses of our family members, friends and neighbors to suicide. We need to fight the stigma that so many older males feel about seeking out help. It is difficult for anyone to admit “there is something wrong,” but acknowledging the signs is the first step in taking care of oneself or helping a loved one.
And, we need to help ensure that older adults remain as vital members of our community as they age. It is important for all people, regardless of age, to have social connections and not drift into isolation. Connectedness helps to act as a buffer against depression.
Depression can be treated and suicide can be prevented. Together we can fight the silent epidemic of older male suicide.
If you, or someone you know is in crisis, contact the San Diego Access & Crisis Line 7 days a week/24 hours a day at (888) 724-7240.