Elderly Depression and Suicide

Someone age 65 or over completes suicide every 90 minutes; an average of sixteen deaths a day. Elders account for 20% of all suicides; but they comprise only 12% of the population.


You receive a dispatch call to check the welfare of an 86 year old Caucasian male.  The reporting party is one of the man’s daughters, Judy, who lives out of state.  She has been unable to contact her father Thomas Clark; he has not returned calls or sent her his weekly letters.  Judy informs you that Clark’s wife died in hospice five months ago.  Clark has congestive heart failure and diabetes.  Judy has already contacted his physician and learned that he did not keep a medical appointment scheduled for two days ago.  She also reports that her father has not shown signs of dementia, but in the past he has stated “I am no good to anyone any more, everyone would be better off if I was dead”.  Judy also informs you that Clark was in the military and has several firearms that he keeps locked in a gun safe.

You request a second unit.  When you arrive at the upscale residence you see that the yard is in total disarray.  There is at least a week’s worth of newspapers in the driveway.  It doesn’t appear that Clark has driven his ’05 Cadillac in a very long time.  The mailbox is overflowing.  It is dusk but there are no lights on in the residence.  Clark comes to the door, still wearing his pajamas.  His hygiene is poor, he is malodorous, and he hasn’t shaved in sometime.  Clark takes note that you are appraising him, and tells you he was just headed to the shower.  You ask him if you can come in, he reluctantly lets you.  The home is certainly not tidy, but it is reasonably clean.  Clark asks you why you are there, you explain, and he tells you that “Judy is a worry wart”.  He admits to being down after the loss of his wife, but insists he is not suicidal.  You notice a pistol on the coffee table and ask him about it.  He tells you it is for protection; that there has been a rash of home robberies in the neighborhood.  You know that is not true.  He does have prescription bottles, financial folders and a glucometer on the table.  He shows you his kitchen.  He does have electricity and the water runs.  There are dishes in the sink; there is food and insulin in the refrigerator. There a number of empty beer cans in a recyclable bin.  He warms up to you a little and states it would be fine if someone followed-up with him.  He agrees to go back to his physician and to call Judy. He also agrees to put his firearm back in the safe.  You have one of those “hinky” feelings, but there is nothing else you can do for Clark now.  You call Judy and describe the situation; you encourage her to involve the family.  You make the appropriate referrals when you get back to the station. 

You learn that Clark died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head two days later.  You take that a little hard; no suicide is easy to deal with but you had gotten to know the victim.  You did everything right, or did you? 

The Problem

Someone age 65 or over completes suicide every 90 minutes; an average of sixteen deaths a day. Elders account for 20% of all suicides; but they comprise only 12% of the population. White males over age 85 are at the highest risk; they complete suicide at approximately six times the national average.  The rates are probably much higher than that, it is estimated that elderly suicide may be under reported by at least 40%. These so called “silent suicides” include deaths by medical noncompliance/overdoses, self-starvation or dehydration, and supposed accidents.

The elderly complete suicide one out of every four attempts; compared to one out of sixteen in younger adults.  The reason for this discrepancy is that the elderly use more deadly means when attempting suicide using guns and hanging. 

More Staggering Statistics:

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