Recognize Suicide Warning Signs in Senior Adults

While suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in this country, the elderly accounted for 16 percent of suicides in the U.S. in 2004. Reports show that one person older than 65 commits suicide every 90 minutes. Be aware of some common warning signs.

1 Watch for extreme mood swings or feelings of deep sadness that do not go away. These can be symptoms of depression, a major risk factor for suicide. Individuals also suddenly may become calm after a period of depression, another sign that the person may be thinking about ending his life. A preoccupation with death often is a clear sign. Although some people may talk about death, not everyone threatens suicide beforehand. Still, any threat of suicide should be taken seriously.
2 Watch for withdrawing from social activities and avoiding interaction with others. Other warning signs might include the person displaying obvious disinterest in the routine activities of daily living, a continued deterioration of physical well-being and neglecting proper medical treatment for a health condition. No longer taking required medications can be a dangerous sign. Some patients may stockpile drugs to use as an overdose.
3 Watch for changes in appearance, such as neglecting one's hygiene and grooming. A marked difference in the person's attitude or an increased use of alcohol can also be red flags.
4 Be aware if someone starts putting her affairs in order, such as visiting family members and friends, giving away cherished personal possessions or making changes to a will.
5 Respond to these warning signs by providing the individual with empathy and support. Make certain that he or she receives appropriate help from mental health professionals. Let the person know that you care.