Sui­cide rate among older men is over­looked tragedy


DEAR ABBY: My el­derly fa­ther’s dear­est friend com­mit­ted sui­cide yes­ter­day. He shot him­self in the head. The fam­ily wasn’t even aware that he was de­pressed. Dad has lost three won­der­ful friends this way in re­cent years. He’s heart­bro­ken think­ing that his bud­dies were se­cretly suf­fer­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol, the rate of sui­cide for men 70 and older in the U.S. is more than dou­ble the over­all sui­cide rate. Yet, with all of our sui­cide preven­tion ef­forts, this high-risk group seems to be ig­nored.

How can we help pre­vent th­ese tragedies? What are the signs of de­pres­sion in older men? And what can fam­i­lies do if they sus­pect de­pres­sion in “Dad,” “Gramps” or “Un­cle John”? Thank you for any help you can pro­vide. — VAN IN MAS­SACHUSETTS

DEAR VAN: Please con­vey to your fa­ther how sorry I am for his loss. I think the first thing peo­ple have to re­mem­ber is that men in gen­eral do not man­i­fest de­pres­sion the way women do be­cause women are more open about shar­ing their feel­ings. Men, par­tic­u­larly older men, were not raised to do that be­cause they were taught that ex­press­ing emo­tion was “weak,” so they stay silent. And men who were once bread­win­ners, ac­tive and vi­tal, can be­come de­pressed when they re­tire.

Among the RISK FAC­TORS are:

— Hav­ing lost a wife or sig­nif­i­cant other;

— Be­ing alone and iso­lated;

— Con­cern about be­ing a bur­den;

— Sub­stance abuse (al­co­hol or pre­scrip­tion drugs); — Firearms in the house.


— Lack of en­ergy;

— Lack of mo­ti­va­tion;

— Less in­ter­est in eat­ing or get­ting out of the house; — Loss of in­ter­est in ac­tiv­i­ties the per­son once en­joyed. A com­mon mis­take peo­ple make is think­ing th­ese things are hap­pen­ing be­cause a per­son is old. If you ob­serve a change in some­one’s be­hav­ior, it is all right to ask the per­son what’s go­ing on. Keep in mind that peo­ple who feel con­nected are less likely to harm them­selves. Iso­la­tion is the en­emy. Visit them, or take them out so they won’t feel alone.

It’s also im­por­tant to help se­niors meet oth­ers they can re­late to, par­tic­u­larly if their friends are dy­ing off. A se­nior cen­ter can pro­vide a place to so­cial­ize and meet new peo­ple. Ex­er­cise is im­por­tant, too, and many se­nior cen­ters pro­vide ex­er­cise fa­cil­i­ties.

Equally im­por­tant is vol­un­teer­ing. Older men are valu­able as­sets to the com­mu­nity and should be en­cour­aged to re­gard them­selves that way. They have a life­time of ex­pe­ri­ence to of­fer, which should not be wasted. By help­ing th­ese men get and stay con­nected, you could ac­tu­ally be sav­ing a life.

A fi­nal thought: As peo­ple age, they of­ten have phys­i­cal prob­lems that are associated with de­pres­sion. (Heart dis­ease is one.) If you need ad­vice about how to ap­proach some­one about your wor­ries, an ex­cel­lent re­source is the Na­tional Sui­cide Preven­tion Life­line. The toll-free num­ber is 880-273-8255.

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