Depression Puts Seniors at Greater Risk for Suicide

September is National Suicide Prevention Month and while much attention is drawn to youth struggling with mental health issues, in older adults depression increases the risk of death by 2 to 3 times and is the “most important factor associated with the risk of suicide in old age,” according to the Canadian Psychological Association.

Seniors in long-term care and nursing homes as well as those caring for a family member (such as a spouse with dementia) or living with chronic illness are at an increased risk for depression.  Depression is associated with a decline in both physical and cognitive function and can interfere with recovery from illness.

Older adults are less likely to seek help for depression and often symptoms such as fatigue and disinterest in activities can be attributed to aging.   The World Health Organization reports that older adults have among the highest rates of suicide worldwide and most seniors who die by suicide have seen a health care provider in the prior month.

Depression Warning Signs

  • Changes in sleep or eating habits
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Loss of interest in things they used to enjoy
  • Loss of independence
  • Feeling overwhelmed or trapped
  • Loss of sense of purpose

Suicide Warning Signs

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Risk-taking behavior
  • Preparing for a “trip” by canceling newspapers or phone service
  • Suddenly putting affairs in order or giving away cherished possessions

If someone you love shows warning signs of suicide, don’t leave them alone and try to listen in a supportive manner, reminding them of all the reasons they have to live.  See medical help immediately and continue to stay connected with your loved one throughout treatment.

For more information about suicide prevention , visit the Canadian Coalition for Seniors’ Mental Health at or the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention at .