Health Column: We’re not in Kansas anymore

Susan Lohr

Susan Lohr

Those days seem to be long gone. It’s unfortunate that these opportunities for fellowshipping are so rare and even deadly.

According to the American Psychological Association, social isolation is one of the major risk factors for suicide, especially in older adults. Various life events commonly associated with suicide in older adults include the death of a loved one, illness, fear of a prolonged death -- which is difficult for family members -- and major changes in life roles such as retirement.

What, you may ask, would lead someone to take his or her life during the golden years of retirement? There are many theories, but the one commonality across all theories is that the decision an older adult makes to take his or her own life is usually based on several high risk factors.

Many are surprised to learn that the highest suicide rates of any age group are in the 65 and older age group. Although older adults make up only 12.6 percent of the population, they account for 18 percent of all suicides. This statistic holds true in Blount County. Statistics taken from the Mental Health Awareness and Suicide Prevention Alliance in Blount County indicate that in 2006, 36 percent and in 2007, 25 percent of the suicides in Blount County were in adults ages 65 and older.

So, what can you do to help? First, be aware of the clues that research has given us to indicate an older adult may be at risk. The biggest clues are signs of depression. Depression is usually shown in a change of eating or sleeping habits; anxiety or being worried; memory problems; hopelessness; helplessness; irritability; lack of interest in personal care; withdrawing from others and from activities; as well as sadness and tearfulness. If you witness any of these symptoms in an older adult, encourage the individual to talk to a physician. There also are various local resources to contact regarding your concerns. There is a false assumption that depression is a normal part of aging, but it is not.

Another important step in preventing suicide is to reduce access to the means of suicide. Multiple studies show that older adults are more likely to use more lethal means to commit suicide, most often, a firearm. The Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network reports that among the young, for every one suicide there are 20 attempts. In older adults, this rises to one suicide for every four attempts.

How do you know who might need help? Get to know your neighbors -- if you don’t already. Be aware if they don’t seem to be themselves. Join them on their porch or invite them to yours; borrow a cup of sugar or lend one when needed.

You may find you’re not only helping them, but they have a lot to offer you, too.

Susan Lohr is a licensed clinical social worker and the social work coordinator with Blount Memorial Home Services.

© 2008 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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