January 01, 2019

Suicide risk in older adults

Knowing the warning signs

Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the U.S. Although suicides by teens and younger adults get a lot of attention, suicide rates among older adults are similar or greater. Older white males have the highest rate of any demographic.

Suicide is sad at any age, in any demographic. It ends a life prematurely and can have a profound effect on family, friends and others.

Suicide is a complex and multidimensional problem, but knowing the warning signs can prompt you to seek care for a loved one or for yourself.

Risk in perspective

Numerous factors elevate the risk of suicide. However, these factors are common, and some may be out of your control. Factors include:

  • Having a family history of suicide
  • Being white and male
  • Having had a psychiatric disorder
  • Being divorced
  • Being a doctor
  • Living in a rural area
  • Having access to firearms
  • Being part of a sexual minority
  • Having experienced childhood abuse
  • Having been in the military

Some risk factors are stronger predictors. Most suicides have one of the following factors present:

  • Psychiatric problem — It's estimated that more than 90 percent of people who attempt suicide have a mental health problem. This may include depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, impulse control problems, or personality or psychotic disorders.
  • Alcohol misuse — This...