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Older adults and suicide – Fact sheet

People 65 years and older, especially men, have a high risk of suicide. As Canada’s largest population group, the baby boomers, approach the plus 65 age range, we may see an increase in suicide in years to come (Canadian Coalition for Seniors’ Mental Health (CCSMH), 2009; Van Orden & Deming, 2017).

Why are older adults at risk?

There are a few factors that put older adults at risk of suicide, factors that can put strain on one’s mental health and potentially lead to thoughts of suicide:

  • Experiences of loss such as loss of health, loved ones, physical mobility and independence
  • Major life changes such as retirement, change in financial status, a transition into care facilities
  • Fewer relationships and connections as loved ones have passed away; also, older adults are more likely to live alone
  • Feeling of being a burden to loved ones
  • Chronic illness and pain (Joiner, 2005; Jahn & Cukrowicz, 2011; Heisel & Links, 2005)

What can reduce risk?

  • Good physical and mental health
  • Strong, supportive relationships with friends and family
  • Being willing and able to ask for help when it’s needed
  • Having a meaning and purpose in life
  • Not having access to lethal means such as guns or potentially deadly medications (Heisel & Duberstein, 2016; Lapierre et al., 2016; Marty et al., 2010; Van Orden & Deming, 2017; CCSMH, 2009).

Warning signs

Warning signs in older adults can be difficult to identify, as some changes in behaviour can be the result of changes as one gets older. For example, if someone is going out less frequently with friends, this could be seen as someone isolating themselves, when in reality they may be having mobility issues.

What can we all do to help reduce suicide among older adults?

If someone you know is exhibiting warning signs, have an open, non-judgmental conversation with them.

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