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Depressed Seniors At Risk for Suicide

(Image credit: Derek Jones | Stock Xchng)

 "The Healthy Geezer" answers questions about health and aging in his weekly column.

Question: Who is most likely to commit suicide?

Answer: White men have the highest risk of suicide, especially those over the age of 85; they have a rate of 49.8 suicide deaths per 100,000 persons. Suicide is the eleventh most common cause of death in the United States.

Depression is usually associated with suicide in older adults. There are a lot of problems to face as you get older. Losses of all kinds can get you down. And feeling blue for a while is a normal part of living at any age.

There are many causes of depression. Some are the natural consequences of being older: a health crisis or the death of someone close to you; the loss of physical or mental capacities; or being a stressed-out caregiver.

The following are common signs of depression. If you have several of these, and they last for more than two weeks, you need help: anxiety; fatigue; loss of interest or pleasure; sleep problems; eating too much or too little; abnormal crying; aches that can’t be treated successfully; diminished concentration or memory; irritability; feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness; and thoughts of death or suicide.

Seniors usually rebound from a period of sadness. However, if you are suffering from clinical depression and don’t get help, your symptoms might last months, or even years. Unrelenting depression is not normal.

Depression is a serious illness. If you think you're depressed, seek medical attention.

Start with your family doctor. The doctor should check to see if your depression could be caused by a health problem (such as hypothyroidism or vitamin B12 deficiency) or a medicine you are taking.

After a complete exam, your doctor may suggest you talk to a social worker, mental health counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist. Doctors specially trained to treat depression in older people are called geriatric psychiatrists.

Try a support group. Support groups can give you new coping skills or support if you are dealing with a major life change. A doctor might suggest that you visit a local senior center, volunteer service, or nutrition program.

Consider taking an antidepressant. These medications can improve your mood, sleep, appetite and concentration.

Discuss electroconvulsive therapy. It may be recommended when medicines can’t be tolerated or a quick response is needed.

Most people with depression respond to treatment. But if you, or someone close to you, are having suicidal thoughts, call this toll-free number: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This is the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a service available to anyone. It's staffed 24 hours a day, every day, and calls are confidential. (I'll talk more about suicide in my next column.)

If you would like to read more columns, you can order a copy of  "How to be a Healthy Geezer" at

All Rights Reserved © 2013 by Fred Cicetti

Fred Cicetti is a contributing writer for Live Science who specializes in health. He has been writing professionally since 1963. Before he began freelancing, he was a reporter, rewriteman and columnist for three daily newspapers in New Jersey: The Newark News, Newark Star-Ledger and Morristown Record. He has written two published novels:" Saltwater Taffy—A Summer at the Jersey Shore," and "Local Angles—Big News in Small Towns."