While it’s never quite made the headlines, at least to the extent that it should, there is a growing number of Americans in one age sector who are committing suicide at a faster rate than all others. White men who are 85 and older are more likely to commit suicide than Americans in any other age group. Tragically, they’re taking their lives at four times the rate of the general population.
Elderly Men Suicide
The Centers for Disease Control report that 51 of every 100,000 white elderly men age 85 and older committed suicide, compared with the national statistics that show an average for all ages of 12.6. Of the 40,600 Americans who took their own lives in 2012, 6,648 were older than 65.
This doesn’t account for the number who attempt suicide but are unsuccessful. About one in five suicide attempts in the elderly ends in death. If you think it’s a drug overdose that’s more likely to be chosen as the preferred method, you’re wrong. Firearms are the most common cause. The frailty of some seniors means they may be less likely to survive suicide attempts: A young person might survive an overdose that proves lethal in an older adult, said James Ellison, director of the geriatric psychiatry program at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass. Yet, the elderly still opt for a gun.
Not surprisingly, depression is the number one reason, but as CDC points out, “the reasons why older and elderly men are at higher risk for suicide are complex and still being researched.”
More than Depression
A psychiatrist who specializes in geriatric suicide explains that “Depression. . . is an almost necessary condition”, Dr. Alexandre Dombrovski, continues, “Depression clouds the person’s view of self and the future”, but, he continues, depression alone rarely leads to a suicide attempt. There are always other problems at play: “relationships breaking down; physical illness; psychosis, which is often overlooked in older patients with depression; pain and disability; financial trouble; legal difficulties; and alcohol or, increasingly in baby boomers, drugs.” In nearly every suicide, it includes one or more of those dynamics. The more trapped an elderly person feels, the more likely he’s going to attempt – and usually succeed – suicide.
Impulsivity is often a significant player in the decision making process. While being impulsive can be good, it’s often dysfunctional in older people who are confronted with loss and disability and who face limited options.
Fortunately, there have been new studies that address suicide in elderly males. Most concur that there are two types of behaviors that can affect adults contemplating suicide. The first is the insistence of focusing on immediate outcomes instead of delayed ones. The second is neglecting important information in the decision-making process.
If you’re concerned about depression in your elderly loved ones, our team of estate planning and elder law advocates can help. Whether it’s Medicaid approval your loved one needs or ensuring healthcare proxies are in place, we stand ready to guide your family through what’s often an overwhelming process. Give our Vermont estate planning lawyers a call today.