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Depression and suicide higher in the elderly

The 50 plus crowd lost a comedic icon with the suicide of Robin Williams. His suicide was felt by all and it started me thinking, and remembering. First I wondered what was so bad that he did not want to live any longer and decided it was time to go. He was diagnosed with the onset of Parkinson’s, but Michael J. Fox has this disease and seems to be acting and so forth. I also started to think back of my teenage years when I was depressed enough to try and end my life. I also remember trying in my late 20’s and early 30’s, and wonder if in I would now that I am in my 50’s. I had that feeling of being better off dead, and can understand why Robin Williams did it, but yet, I was not brave enough or just wanted to live for whatever reason that stopped me. Depression is a hard thing to live with, and many seniors are dealing with it. Disease brings depression and hopelessness when someone is diagnosis, especially with a terminal disease.

People remember and weep for the lost of a comedic icon
People remember and weep for the lost of a comedic icon
Photo by Marc Piscotty/Getty Images

The next thing I wondered is why no one even knew or saw how depressed Robin Williams was. I then realized when someone is depressed and suicidal they are in their own little world. He did talk about his battle with depression, on a few occasions, but you would think that his friends and family would have seen this ending to his life coming, but the truth is you never can foretell if someone will take their life. Many people who are depress are not treated by family and friends as having a disease, and the only ones that get help unless they ask for it are the ones that try and fail. The ones that do succeed are the ones that do not leave notes or attempt to take their lives. They do take their lives and then their family and friends ask why. I will tell you why. The signs were there but you either did not notice or did not want to notice, and sometimes especially with some seniors a person has learned how to hid their depression.

Each year there is a total of 12.4 per 100,000 Americans that take their own lives. The statistics for seniors committing suicide is higher. According to the CDC’s statistics in 2010 people 65 and over the number of suicides are 14.9 per 100,000. This many even be an under report because of the stigma that comes with suicide. In addition, the coroner many times on an elderly person will call an overdose an accident. Elderly suicide is a very serious problem. Elderly suicides account for over 18% of all suicides in this country. Any number of a suicide rate is to high for any population.

The reason the suicide rate is so high in the elderly is because of untreated depression, and this needs to be recognized and treated. There are about one third of seniors age 65 or older experience depression and unfortunately some people believe depression is a normal part of being old. This is completely untrue. Depression is not normal for anyone at any age. In addition, many elderly that have depression have a chemical imbalance in their brain, and even though it is extremely common it is treatable. It is extremely important that any one especially the elderly who exhibits symptoms of depression receive a physical exam to determine if there is a physical basis for the depression. Whether chemical, physical, or even psychological it is important to recognize the signs of depression and seek help for the individual with depression.

The cause of depression in the elderly may be due to medications or some physical condition. There are many diseases and physical problems that can cause symptoms of depression. The following can cause depression in someone no matter what age:

  • thyroid disorders
  • diabetes
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Strokes
  • tumors
  • some viral infections

The following medications may cause symptoms of depression:

  • blood pressure medication
  • arthritis medication
  • hormones
  • steroids

Symptoms of depression in seniors may differ somewhat than what is seen in other populations. One sign of depression can be characterized by memory problems, confusion, social withdrawal, loss of appetite along with irritability and insomnia. Sometimes an elderly person expresses severe sadness and if it is not acknowledged or express it can escalate into depression. Many older Americans are worried about being stigmatized and feel that depression is a character flaw, or it is mistaken for dementia and believe it is part of aging. Depression is not a part of aging and needs to be treated jus any other illness.

Suicide is more common among the older population because they experience more often than others the life events that are commonly associated with depression and suicide. They experience the death of a loved one, especially a spouse of many years. They have a physical illness with uncontrollable pain. In addition, they have a fear of dying a prolonged death that will damage their family emotional and financially. Furthermore, social isolation and loneliness and a major change in their social roles, like retirement can cause depression. The highest suicide rates among the elderly are white men, especially if they become isolated. Any of these factors alone is not any indication of suicidal intent, but a combination together can be an indication of a possible suicide attempt in the near future.

Seniors look for signs of depression in your friends, and in any one who is an older American. Signs of depression can be anything like a change in eating or sleeping habits, an individual has unexplained fatigue, or lack of interest, trouble concentrating, crying for no apparent reason. Do not take grief as depression. An extended amount of grief along with a withdrawal from family and friends is a sign of depression. Grief especially the lost of a long time spouse can overwhelm seniors and start them in the depression spiral.

America can be a difficulty country for senior citizens to live in. There are some parts of the world, the elderly are much more revered and treasured than in America. We are a nation that glorifies and idolizes youth, largely from a commercial perspective. Avoiding the visible reminders of aging has become more than a billion dollar industry, and somewhere along the way we have diminished the spiritual and emotional reminders of aging. We are losing the bounties of wisdom, love, and guidance offered to us from those who have gone before us and have already experienced what we will experience.

It is important to remember when people are a vital part of other people’s lives, when they are valued and embraced by the community; they are more likely to avoid the feelings of hopelessness, bereavement, and isolation that can lead to suicidal thoughts. We would all benefit from reaching out to a senior citizen, and don’t reach out because of pity or a sense of doing someone a favor, or even out of obligation, but out of a desire to learn from the more experienced about how to navigate life’s difficulties and more fully enjoy and appreciate the goodness in our lives. You would be surprised what you learn from an older American, and I am sure what you learn is not in the history books.

America lost a comedic icon with the suicide of Robin Williams, a man who made us laugh. This man also laughed with us, but was also crying and hurting on the inside. Don’t let someone close to you laugh with you but still cry and hurt on the inside. Don’t let anyone in your life feel so insignificant that they feel they are invisible in life, but will be alive in death. A human being is a sacred think as is life. That is why murder and suicide is not only against morality, but also humanity, and society. Pay attention, and don’t be the one asking why when someone you know and/or love no matter what age takes their own life to be set free from the anguish and despair.

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