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Help Prevent Suicide in Older Adults
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
What do I need to know about suicide prevention for older adults?
An older person may see suicide as the only way to escape emotional or physical pain and suffering. You can help provide emotional support for him or her and get the help he or she needs. Learn to recognize warning signs that the person may be considering suicide. Resources are available to help you and the person.
What should I do if I think the person is considering suicide?
Call the person's local emergency number (911 in the US) if you feel he or she is at immediate risk of suicide. Also call if he or she talks about an active suicide plan. Assume that the person intends to carry out his or her plan. The following are some things you can do:
- Contact a suicide prevention organization:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK)
- Suicide Hotline: 1-800-784-2433 (1-800-SUICIDE)
- For a list of international numbers: https://save.org/find-help/international-resources/
- Contact the person's therapist. His or her healthcare provider can give you a list of therapists if he or she does not have one.
- Keep medicines, weapons, and alcohol out of the person's reach.
- Do not leave the person alone if he or she says he or she wants to commit suicide. Do not leave the person alone if you think he or she may try it. Make sure you do not put yourself at risk if the person has a weapon.
- Ask the person if he or she is thinking of committing suicide and has a plan.
What warning signs should I watch for?
It is common for an older person to talk about death and dying, especially if he or she has a worsening medical condition. This makes it difficult to recognize when an older person is planning suicide. The following are warning signs to watch for:
- Talking about his or her plan to commit suicide, or suddenly deciding to make a will
- A change in how he or she talks about death, such as suddenly talking about it when he or she never did before, or suddenly not talking about it
- Saying he or she sees no reason to live
- Saying he or she should end his or her life to prevent pain and suffering
- A belief that his or her family will have an easier time when they no longer have to care for him or her
- Cutting himself or herself, burning the skin with cigarettes, or driving recklessly
- Drug or alcohol use, not taking prescribed medicine, or taking too much
- Sudden anger, lashing out at others, or seeming hopeless, anxious, or angry and then suddenly becoming happy or peaceful
- Not wanting to spend time with others or doing things he or she usually enjoys
- A change in the way he or she eats, sleeps, or dresses
- Weight gain or loss, or less energy than usual
- Trouble sleeping or spending a lot of time sleeping
- Giving away or throwing away his or her belongings
- Suddenly not going to therapy
What increases the risk for suicide?
- Depression or chronic sleep disorders such as insomnia
- A mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- The death of an important person, or the anniversary of a death
- Chronic pain or an illness, such as heart disease, cancer, or AIDS
- Feeling helpless if he or she has to depend on others to survive, or thinking of himself or herself as a burden to family and friends
- Financial stress, such as not having enough money for bills
- A past suicide attempt, or someone close to him or her attempted or committed suicide
- Physical or sexual abuse in the past or present, or being in an abusive relationship
- Frustration, anger, or feelings of revenge, or a history of violence or aggression toward others
- Moving out of his or her home, living alone, or having few friends
- Divorce or loss of a spouse, or loss of a friendship
How will healthcare providers help the person?
- Healthcare providers will ask questions about the person's suicide thoughts and plans. They will ask how often he or she thinks about suicide and if he or she has tried it before. They will ask if he or she hurt himself or herself, such as with cutting or reckless driving. They may ask if he or she has access to weapons or drugs. Based on the answers to these questions, the person may be admitted to the hospital. Healthcare providers can closely monitor the person and make sure that he or she stays safe.
- A healthcare provider will help the person create a safety plan. The plan includes a list of people or groups to contact if he or she has suicidal thoughts again. The list may include friends, family members, a spiritual leader, and others he or she trusts. The person may be asked to make a verbal agreement or sign a contract that he or she will not try to harm himself or herself.
What treatment may the person need?
- Medicines may be given to prevent mood swings, or to decrease anxiety or depression. The person will need to take all medicines as directed. A sudden stop can be harmful. It may take 4 to 6 weeks for the medicine to help him or her feel better.
- A therapist can help the person identify and change negative feelings or beliefs about himself or herself. This may also help change the way the he or she feels and acts. A therapist can also help the person find ways to cope with things that cannot be changed.
What can I do to help the person?
- Encourage the person to seek help for drug or alcohol abuse. Drugs and alcohol can increase suicidal thoughts and make the person more likely to act on them.
- Help the person connect with others. Encourage him or her to become involved in the community. Some examples include tutoring a young student, volunteering at a local organization, or joining a group exercise program. The person may need help setting up a computer or creating an e-mail account to help him or her remain connected to others.
- Exercise with the person. Exercise can lift his or her mood, increase energy, and make it easier to sleep.
- Encourage the person to try new things. Older adults who are open to new experiences handle stress and change better than those who are not.
- Call, visit, or send postcards to the person often. Check on him or her after the loss of a pet, longtime friend, or child. Holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries can be difficult for a person after a loss. The loss of a spouse can be especially painful and lonely.
- Help the person schedule a visit with his or her religious or spiritual leader. A religious or spiritual leader may be able to offer additional support and resources to the person.
- Help the person get equipment that will increase his or her comfort and mobility. Examples are hearing aids, glasses, large print books, and walkers. These can help him or her enjoy activities and feel more independent.
- Encourage the person to continue taking medicine and going to therapy. Medicine and therapy can help improve his or her mental health.
Where can I find support and more information?
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
New York , NY 10004
Phone: 1- 800 - 273-TALK (8255)
Web Address: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
- Suicide Awareness Voices of Education
8120 Penn Ave. S., Ste. 470
Bloomington , Minnesota 55431
Phone: 1- 952 - 946-7998
Web Address: http://www.save.org
Call the person's local emergency number (911 in the US) if:
- The person has done something on purpose to hurt himself or herself.
- The person tries to commit suicide.
- The person tells you he or she made a plan to commit suicide.
When should I call the person's doctor or therapist?
- The person acts out in anger, is reckless, or is abusing alcohol or drugs.
- The person has serious thoughts of suicide, even after treatment.
- You begin to see warning signs that the person may be considering suicide.
- The person has intense feelings of sadness, anger, revenge, or despair.
- The person withdraws from others.
- The person tells you he or she has more thoughts of suicide when alone.
- The person stops eating, or begins to smoke or drink heavily.
- The person says he or she is a burden because of a disability or disease.
- You have questions or concerns about the person's condition or care.
Care AgreementYou have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.
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