Today kicks off Suicide Prevention Week. Every year, over 38,000 Americans take their own lives due to depression, mental illness or some other factor that leaves them feeling desperate and out of control of their own life.

Did you know that, while more teens attempt suicide, the rate of completed suicides is highest among older adults? In fact, according to statistics by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the rate of suicide among people ages 45 to 54 was 19.7% in 2010 and has been steadily increasing since 2000. The next greatest population for completed suicides is people over the age of 85 (17.6%) followed closely by people ages 55 to 64 (17.5%).

Why don’t we hear more about these suicides?

For one thing, the high prevalence of attempted suicides (for every 1 completed suicide there are 100 to 200 attempts among young people) leads to more awareness but also the rate of teen suicides linked to bullying makes it a strong media story.

But the issue of suicide among boomers is concerning because their attempts are usually successful. . For people over the age of 65, the estimate is one successful suicide for every 4 attempted.

What causes this generation to attempt suicide?

Unlike suicide among younger people, where alcohol and substance abuse are major reasons, suicide among older adults is usually due to depression. According to the National Institutes of Health, of the 35 million Americans age 65 or older, about 2 million suffer from full-blown depression. Another 5 million suffer from less severe forms of the illness.

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The Results of Depression

Unfortunately, depression is often undiagnosed and untreated, as this population grew up not recognizing depression as a true illness. Rarely do they seek any sort of professional treatment, but suffer in silence, begin to withdraw from friends and family and become isolated.

People over the age of 45 also deal with more life changing circumstances than younger adults – divorce, death, becoming empty-nesters and the loss of a job. Living in the suburbs of New York City, I’ve seen many highly successful men who have been laid-off in recent years unable to deal with the loss of status as well as income. The feeling of helplessness and loss of control can lead to depression. Overall the rate of suicide among men far outweighs that of women.

The Effects on the Elderly

As for the elderly, these changes are even greater. Usually there are several reasons for an older person choosing to commit suicide rather than just one. The death of a spouse, his or her own illness, the burden of being a caregiver and/or the social isolation that often comes with age are all contributing factors. Certain medications can also exacerbate depressions for the elderly and should be closely monitored by their doctor.

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In the elderly, the signs of depression are sometimes harder to recognize. Many depressed seniors don’t claim to feel sad at all. They may complain, instead, of low motivation, a lack of energy, or physical problems. Other signs could include:

  • Irritability or anxiety
  • Increasing concern over money
  • Physical illness which become worse
  • Lack of concern over their appearance
  • Not eating properly or often enough


Suicide is a serious issue at every age. As a friend, parent, adult child or neighbor, watch for signs of depression. For more tips on suicide prevention, visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org or call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Images courtesy of @notnixen, PaoloMargari and Diego3336.

Written by Alison Jacobson

Author, speaker, and founder of Safety Mom, Alison is a pre-eminent voice on health, safety, and wellness for the entire family. Learn more

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