Depression and Suicide in Older Adults

Depression is not just sadness that fades with time. It is determined by a strict set of criteria as outlined in the second edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Recognizing depression can be tricky because depressive symptoms manifest themselves differently in older people than they do in younger people. Health care workers need to be alert to the signs and symptoms of depression because untreated depression represents the greatest risk factor for suicide among older adults.Many people may believe that depression in older adults is simply a normal event that most people go through at one time or another. and that there is no real reason to be alarmed. It might be thought that these individuals should accept sad feelings and disinterest in life as a typical part of growing older. Nevertheless, depression is a very real disorder and not just one that comes with age. Depressed individuals often cannot just ‘snap out of’ the problems they are facing. All too often, older adults end up taking their own lives when their depression becomes too painful for them and remains untreated (Brent, et al, 1997).Older adults have the highest rate of suicide in the United States, with over half of all suicides occurring in adult men, aged 25-65. Moreover, suicide rates steadily increase with age (Heisel, 2004). The rate of suicide among people 65 years and older is 50% higher than the national average. A senior citizen in the United States commits suicide every 90 minutes. Clearly, this is a problem that must not be ignored, particularly among older adults who are disproportionately impacted.Although older adults currently make up only 13% of the population, they suffer 19% of all suicide deaths. Persons who are 65 years and older have the highest suicide rates of any age group, and 84% of those who commit suicide are men.

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