This year, seniors face the challenge of social distancing, a tool designed to keep them safe from COVID-19. But, social distancing increases loneliness and isolation. And older adults who experience loneliness and isolation are at greater risk for suicide.
A concerned caregiver reports:
“I noticed Mrs. M. seemed more irritable than usual. I tried to talk to her, but she just told me everything was fine. She skipped breakfast and only took a few bites at lunch. Before her afternoon nap, she told me, “I wish I could just go to sleep and never wake up.”
What should this concerned caregiver do? What would you do?
Suicide among seniors is more common than you think. In fact, the highest rate of suicide is found among adults between 45 and 64 years of age. The second-highest rate occurs in those 85 years or older.
Some chilling facts:
- Older people make fewer suicide attempts but have a higher rate of success.
- People over age 65 make up 12 percent of the population, but they account for 16 percent of all suicide deaths.
And if you think that’s bad enough . . . the stats above are from 2018, well before the coronavirus pandemic.
This year, seniors face the challenge of social distancing, a tool designed to keep them safe from COVID-19. But, social distancing increases loneliness and isolation. And older adults who experience loneliness and isolation are at greater risk for suicide. The stress of managing a medical illness, chronic pain, heightened anxiety, and fear of getting the virus all add up to a perfect storm.
Experts estimate that 2020 will see a significant uptick in suicides directly related to the coronavirus pandemic. Whether you are a caregiver, a supervisor, or a scheduler, you are likely to come across a client or two that is having suicidal thoughts, expressing suicidal wishes, or displaying warning signs of suicide. Will you know what to do?
Know the Warning Signs
Not all suicidal people will show warning signs, but some may. The following is a list of warning signs you may observe:
- Talking about suicide.
- Seeking out the means to carry out a suicide (i.e. pills or a gun).
- Preoccupation with death.
- Sense of worthlessness or hopelessness.
- Anxiety or panic.
- Writing suicide notes.
- Saying goodbye to people as if they may never see them again.
Don’t Fear or Avoid the Conversation
If the thought of talking about suicide makes you squirm and sweat, you’re not alone. It’s a tough topic. Here are a few helpful tips:
- Stay relaxed and listen very carefully. This has two benefits! It will keep you calm and will bring a sense of calm to the person with whom you are talking.
- Always be honest and forthcoming. Never try to paint a rosy picture by saying, “It’ll all be okay,” or “You should just count your blessings and you’ll feel better.”
- Do your best to find out how close the person is to taking action:
- Ask, “Are you feeling so bad that you are thinking about suicide?”
- If the answer is yes, ask, “Have you thought about how you would do it?”
- If the answer is yes, ask, “Do you have what you need to do it?”
- If the answer is yes, ask, “Have you thought about when you would do it?”
Remember, you are NOT a counselor or psychologist. Do not attempt to give advice or try to “fix” the problem yourself. Your role is to listen, gather information, and assist in getting the person the help he or she needs.
- If the person answered yes to three or four of the above questions, the risk is very high, and immediate treatment is necessary.
- If you are present in the home with the person, stay with him or her until help arrives.
- Call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 for guidance, or
- Call 911 and explain the situation.
- Remove any pills, weapons, or other tools the person may use.
- If you are on the phone with the person, stay on the line and, if possible, use another phone to dial 911 to request a welfare check.
- If you feel like the person is not in immediate danger, his or her primary care provider may be able to help.
- If the person already uses mental health services, ask him or her to reach out to a trusted therapist.
- If there are family members close by and involved in the person’s care, ask for permission to contact family members for help.
Get In the Know about Seniors and Suicide
If you are already an ITK eLearning subscriber, consider assigning the course, “Understanding Suicide” to your team. Not an eLearning subscriber yet? Order the PDF version of the course HERE. You can use this to hold a live training session or distribute the material for independent learning.