Suicide rates have reached an all-time high, and rates among seniors are rising faster than any other group—particularly among men.

  • In 2001, for every 100,000 men who were ages 55 to 64, just shy of 30 committed suicide.
  • The suicide rate rose to 38 deaths for men ages 75 to 84 years old.
  • It further increased to 56 for men ages 85 and older.
  • In comparison, in the same year, there were 6 deaths by suicide among women who are ages 55 to 64. That rate declined as women aged.

Among people who attempt suicide, one in four seniors will succeed, according to the National Council on Aging, compared with one in 200 youths.

Seniors who survive a suicide attempt are less likely than younger people to recover from the effects.

Understanding the risks

Several factors increase the risk of suicide among people of all ages, including depression and other mental health problems; substance use problems (including prescription medications); physical illness, disability, and pain; and social isolation.

Seniors have additional factors at play, including the fear of being a burden as they face medical or financial challenges; the loss of a sense of purpose; complex medical concerns, such as cognitive decline or terminal illnesses; the fear of their health declining further; and grief and loss as friends and loved ones pass away. Additional risk factors include depression, social isolation, an inflexible personality, and alcohol or medication misuse or abuse.

While all people are at risk for these feelings, men tend to have fewer relationships and emotional connections to counteract them. They are also less likely to seek mental health support, and they have more access to and familiarity with firearms. Fortunately, there are several strategies that can help to prevent suicide.

Seek help

Seniors from the baby boomer and silent generations tend to be hesitant about seeking mental health support, as mental health was a taboo topic over much of their lifetimes. But a growing number of options and innovations are making it more comfortable for everyone to benefit from the expertise of professionals who want to help.

If you’re feeling hopeless, sad, or losing interest in things you previously enjoyed, talk to your primary care doctor about being screened for depression. Treatments such as talk therapy, medications, and even lifestyle changes can make a big difference in helping you feel like yourself. Grief counselors are trained to help people of all ages manage loss. There is also an anonymous and free support line that you can call any time to talk to a counselor. Just dial or text 988 to be routed to a network of more than 200 state and local call centers. In 2022, the lifeline answered nearly 5 million calls, texts, and chats.

Manage illness

Physical health can affect mental health in many ways. A large study published in 2017 found that back pain, traumatic brain injury, cancer, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), HIV/AIDS, migraine, renal disease, and sleep disorders are associated with an increased risk of suicide.

Chronic illness. A person with chronic pain or a terminal illness may feel hopeless or too uncomfortable to enjoy life. Support groups can help you connect with other people who have similar feelings and experiences. They’re also a good way to learn what is helping other people cope with their health concerns.

Tools such as cognitive behavioral therapy, acupuncture, exercise, CBD, and other alternative methods may provide relief or a feeling of control over illness. When medical science can’t eliminate pain or discomfort, psychological professionals can often teach people how to manage or better live with it.

Medication use. A variety of medications have been linked to depression, including those used to treat high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Multiple classes of prescription insomnia medications are associated with suicidal thinking and behaviors.

Increase your sense of purpose

One of the biggest issues that seniors, particularly those over age 75, struggle with is the loss of a sense of purpose as they retire from careers, see their children grow up and grow busy with their own lives, and face barriers to participating in activities they previously enjoyed. Having a sense of purpose is associated with more than happiness: People who have a greater sense of purpose tend to have slower rates of mental decline and decreased mortality.

One of the most significant ways to increase a sense of purpose is to volunteer. Volunteers provide essential and meaningful services for the community, which can strengthen a sense of purpose, particularly when volunteer activities are aligned with something meaningful to the participant. Volunteering also increases social interaction, helps build a support system based on common interests, improves physical health, and lowers rates of depression and anxiety, especially for people 65 and older.

A study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reported that people who volunteered for more than 100 hours per year had a reduced risk of mortality and physical functioning limitations, higher physical activity, and better mood, optimism, and purpose in life. A study published in BMC Psychiatry reported that prosocial activity is associated with a lower risk of suicide among people with good mental health.

There are countless volunteer opportunities in the community, including in schools, animal shelters, hospitals, literacy programs, social service programs, and much more. You can visit to start looking for ideas.

Seniors also play a powerful role as historians. Through talking or writing, you can share valuable information, wisdom, and experience with your own families, the community, and local historical societies.

Find ways to engage and learn

There are countless ways to talk yourself into staying in and watching television, but that’s a recipe for loneliness and disengagement. Instead, look for activities that you enjoy—or ones that you’ve never tried to see if you enjoy them.

People sometimes feel that learning and growing stops at a certain age, but nothing is farther from the truth. Try attending a lecture at a local college (many colleges offer free or low-cost courses to seniors), taking an art or craft class, or learning a musical instrument.

New activities stimulate the mind, improve cognitive ability, provide socialization, boost community engagement, and give people a chance to learn from others’ perspectives.

Learn to love technology

Technology is a double-edged sword for seniors. It can be a powerful way to engage in conversations and activities with people anywhere in the world—including tech-savvy children and grandchildren—but it falls short of many seniors’ desire for face-to-face interaction. People ages 65 and older generally connect by being in person, while those under that age often prefer technological tools.

Learning how to use technology can make it less fearsome and more of a tool for seniors to connect with family, friends, and people with similar interests. If it feels intimidating, look for classes at the local library or through your school district’s adult-education program to learn how to use the new tools of communication. Bonus: Learning new skills boosts engagement.

Set goals

You don’t have to be 25 to have goals in life. What would you like to accomplish? What have you always wanted to do? It could be anything from attaining a college degree to lifting a specific weight at the gym to learning a new language. Setting goals reminds us that we can improve over time, and it gives us motivation to move forward.

Watch for Your Loved Ones

If you are concerned about a spouse or loved one, there are a few warning signs to look out for:

  • Withdrawing
  • Not participating in the same activities
  • Lack of interaction
  • Tearfulness, sad mood, depression, sense of unhappiness, negative attitude and outlook on life, irritability, anger
  • Talking about having no reason to live or no purpose in life
  • Talking excessively about death or dying, talking about writing or
    rewriting their will
  • Watching shows and movies or reading books with only death or suicide-related themes
  • Giving away personal items
  • Neglecting health or grooming
  • Expressing little concern for safety
  • Increased use of drugs or alcohol
  • Decreased use of prescription medications because they
    seem futile

If you suspect a loved one may be suicidal, you can take steps to help them:

  • Ask if they are considering suicide. Simply talking about it can reduce suicidal thinking.
  • Reduce access to firearms or
    large quantities of potentially lethal pills.
  • Be present for them to increase social connection.
  • Help them seek assistance from a health-care provider or the 988 Lifeline.
  • Understand that men likely need more of a push to seek mental health support.

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