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Expert Tips for Helping Suicidal Older Adults

May 20, 2020




Suicide is an important topic when it comes to older adults. Here's why.


White men over 85 have the highest rate of suicide in the country (more than any other age group). Does this come as a surprise to you?


It's also important to know that suicide attempts in older adults are more likely to result in death than younger adults due to the following reasons:

  • Older adults plan more carefully and use more lethal means
  • Older adults are less likely to be discovered and rescued
  • Less likely to recover from a failed attempt


And here's where you come in!  In today's episode, I share exactly what to say and do to help the older adults in your life who may be suicidal


A quick but important disclaimer as we get started:

I will be talking about suicide and suicide prevention and in doing this I'm going to be sharing a story that was published in the New York times in December 2019. I know that suicide is a very sensitive topic and so if this topic is triggering for you or is very intense for you, please consider whether or not it's healthy for you to listen to this particular podcast on this particular day. If you do choose to listen, please consider listening with a friend or calling a friend afterward. If you need to talk about it and process it.


Here's a peak inside the episode:

  • [02:44] The New York Times shared a family story about suicide in December 2019, learn one family's experience with suicide in older adulthood.
  • [05:21] You may be surprised to hear that White men over 85 have the highest suicide rate in the country, more than any other age group. Learn more about why this is.
  • [06:06] Talking about suicide with older adults is not going to make them more suicidal, in fact, it might help. Learn the questions to ask here.
  • [07:39] I share many other strategies for helping a suicidal older adult.
  • [10:30] Spending time with an older adult who is suicidal is essential to reducing risk for suicide. 
  • [11:39] Friends and family have an important role in helping older adults who are suicidal.

By the end of this episode, you'll have a clear sense of why suicide is such an important topic when it comes to older adults and know what to say and do if an older adult in your life is suicidal.


Click here to listen!

If you or someone you know is in crisis or struggling with thoughts about harming themselves or others, please reach out to the...




How to Help an Older Adult Who Is Suicidal


Know the Risk Factors

These risk factors were identified by research as being the most significant for increasing the risk of suicide in older adults.


Keep an eye out for these warning signs:

  • Withdrawing from friends and previously enjoyable activities like hobbies, sports, and physical intimacy
  • Feelings of loss of sense of purpose and independence
  • Preparing for death by making a will or other final arrangements, including giving away prized possessions
  • Preoccupation with death and dying
  • Recent life changes, such as the death or chronic illness of a spouse, moving to a new home.


Follow up on your concerns with questions, like:

  • Do you feel as though life is no longer an option for you?
  • Have you had thoughts about harming yourself?
  • Are you planning to harm yourself or take your life?
  • Is there a gun in the house? Or a collection of pills?
  • Are you often alone?


Help an older adult who is suicidal by:

  • Removing pills, weapons, or other means
  • Calling the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at +1 800-273-8255
  • Calling 9-1-1 for welfare check (if you're concerned about the person's safety)
  • Calling the older adult's primary care provider or mental health provider


If you're concerned that your older loved one may be depressed:

  1. Talk with them about what you’ve been noticing in a compassionate and concerned way
  2. Encourage them to see their primary care provider to rule out any medical concerns that may be causing these symptoms. (Accompany them to their appointment)
  3. Help them get connected with a mental health provider who specializes with older adults. Here's how!


Help suicidal or depressed older adults to get connected to mental health professionals who specialize in older adults:

  • Psychology Today- In this resource portal, you can search for Psychologists and Psychiatrists who specialize in older adults, simply select your age category (Elders 65+)
  • Geriatric Mental Health Foundation- The doctors listed on their website are members of the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry (AAGP).
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA’s) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.
  • Major Medical Centers and Universities - If your older loved one lives near a major medical center or medical university, go online (or google them) to see if they offer mental health care for older adults. Here are some common terms to help you in your search: geriatric mental health, behavioral health for older adults, a geriatric psychiatry program, etc.


Please don’t ignore signs and symptoms of depression and suicide. Instead lean in, share your concerns, and help your older loved one get connected to providers.


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Links mentioned in this episode:


Related Mental Health Episodes:




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I'm Dr. Regina Koepp

I'm a Board Certified Clinical Psychologist and Gerontologist specializing with older adults and families! As founder and CEO of Gero Champions, LLC and the Psychology of Aging Podcast, my mission is to help mental health and senior care providers meet the mental health and sexual health needs of older adults using up to date, evidence-based, and culturally thoughtful care.


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