Wednesday, September 13, 2006

PA Aging Department Encourages Suicide Awareness

On Sept. 12, 2006, the Pennsylvania Department of Aging issued a News Release in conjunction with two other Commonwealth agencies -- the Department of Health and the Department of Public Welfare -- emphasizing "Suicide Prevention" and recognizing "Suicide Prevention Awareness Week" in Pennsylvania.

The News Release is found online here.

Certainly suicide is a serious concern -- 1,350 Pennsylvanians ended their lives in this manner in 2004. Are many elderly/seniors among them?

Yes. The News Release indicates a surprising situation:

According to Ivonne Bucher, chief of staff for the Department of Aging, the public is often surprised to learn that many victims of suicide are older adults.

“Men over the age of 85 have the greatest risk of suicide among groups of any age, gender or race,” said Bucher. “We want older Pennsylvanians to understand that resources are available to help them improve their quality of life. We care about what happens to them.” ***

“By educating the public about the warning signs and preventable nature of suicide, we can save lives,” said Sherry Peters of DPW’s Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. “It is also important that society is careful not to judge those who seek treatment for depression or substance abuse because the stigma associated with these illnesses may prevent someone from seeking help.”

This is a national problem. Suicide and Mental Health Association International, indicates in its "Elder Suicide Primer" posted online
, as follows:

Someone age 65 or over completes suicide every 90 minutes -- 16 deaths a day. Elders account for one-fifth of all suicides, but only 12% of the population. White males over age 85 complete suicide at almost six times the national average. Elder suicide may be under-reported 40% or more. Omitted are "silent suicides", i.e., deaths from medical noncompliance and overdoses, self-starvation or dehydration, and "accidents." The elderly have a high suicide "success rate" because they use firearms, hanging, and drowning . "Double suicides" involving spouses or partners occur most frequently among the aged. ***

Elder suicide is associated with depression and factors causing depression, e.g., chronic illness, physical impairment, unrelieved pain, financial stress, loss and grief, social isolation, and alcoholism. Depression is tied to low serotonin levels. Serotonin, which decreases with aging, is a neurotransmitter which limits self-destructive behavior.

The American Society of Suicidology
reinforces the frequency of suicide by the elderly in its "Elderly Suicide Fact Sheet", found online. It reproduced the data from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control website operated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Aging Department's News Release reminds the public, including care-givers for the elderly, about warning signs betraying suicidal thoughts:

· Talking about wanting to hurt or kill oneself or directly threatening to do so;
· Looking for ways to kill oneself by seeking access to firearms, pills, or other means;
· Talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide when these actions are out of the ordinary for the person;
· Feeling hopeless or lacking a sense of purpose in life;
· Feeling rage or uncontrolled anger or seeking revenge;
· Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities - seemingly without thinking;
· Feeling trapped by circumstance;
· Increasing alcohol or drug use;
· Withdrawing from friends, family, and society;
· Feeling anxious, agitated, or unable to sleep; or sleeping too much; and
· Experiencing dramatic mood swings

Information and crisis intervention resources are available. For example, anyone may call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).