Suicide Prevention among Older Adults: a guide for family members

Suicide Prevention among Older Adults: a guide for family members was designed for family members and other people who provide social support to older adults, including friends, neighbours and community members. The purpose of this guide is to help people recognize suicide risk factors and warning signs, and to know what to do if an older adult is at risk for suicide.

The guide was produced by the Canadian Coalition for Seniors’ Mental Health (CCSMH), which is a group of organizations and individuals representing older adults, their family members and informal caregivers, health care professionals, researchers and policy makers. The purpose of the CCSMH is to promote the mental health of seniors by connecting people, ideas and resources.

Highlights:

  • Older adults have among the highest rates of suicide of any age group in most countries worldwide.
  • In Canada, the risk for suicide tends to increase with age, especially for men.
  • The suicide rate of older Canadian men is roughly double that of the nation as a whole.
  • Research suggests that as many as 80–90% of older adults who die by suicide suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder.
  • Research has indicated that the mental disorders most commonly associated with risk for suicide are:
    • Depression and mood disorders (including bipolar affective disorder or “manic- depression”)
    • Substance/chemical misuse (including misuse of alcohol, drugs or medications)
    • Psychotic disorders (including schizophrenia and delusional disorders)
    • Personality disorders

The American Association of Suicidology recently created a list of common suicide warning signs to help people recognize when an older adult may be at risk for suicide and in need of help. The mnemonic IS PATH WARM may help people to remember these warning signs:

  • I –  Ideation
  • S –  Substance abuse
  • P –  Purposelessness
  • A –  Anxiety/Agitation
  • T –  Trapped 
  • H –  Hopelessness /helplessness
  • W – Withdrawal
  • A –  Anger 
  • R –  Recklessness 
  • M –  Mood Changes 
 See pages 23-26  for more details about each of these warning signs.

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