Suicidal Thoughts Should Be Taken Seriously

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

Question: What causes suicidal feelings in older people?

Answer: Depression is usually associated with suicide in older adults. While feeling blue occasionally is a normal part of living at any age, unrelenting depression isn't normal.

More than 90 percent of people who kill themselves are suffering from a brain illness and substance abuse problems. Yes, that's right, a "brain illness." The brain is an organ just like the heart. When the brain becomes ill, it can make you depressed and anxious.

Suicide is often a last-ditch attempt to relieve the pain of depression, which can cause powerful feelings of despair and self-doubt. If ignored, these feelings can trigger self-destructive thoughts that can lead to suicide.

If you have these thoughts, seek help immediately. It is important to understand that suicidal thoughts are treatable. Don’t let fear or embarrassment stop you from seeking help from your physician, therapist, family, or friends.

Avoid being alone when you feel horrible, and stay away from drugs and alcohol. Many suicides are caused by uncontrolled impulses, and drugs and alcohol can make you more impulsive.

Make sure you don't have access to anything you could use to hurt yourself. Have someone hold onto your car keys when you are feeling suicidal. Throw away all unused medications.

How can you tell if someone you know is at risk for committing suicide? Here are some indications that should be considered seriously:

  • Any mention of suicide.
  • Writing or revising a will.
  • Giving away sentimental possessions.
  • Buying a gun or large quantities of medication.
  • Cutting off social connections.
  • Suddenly becoming calm and decisive after being without joy or hope.

If you encounter someone who is suicidal, mental health professionals have the following suggestions:

  • Stay calm and let the person know you are willing to listen.
  • Remind the person that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, and that there are better ways to handle the problem.
  • Describe behavior you've observed and explain that you are concerned that it might indicate a potential suicide.
  • Remind the person why his or her life makes yours better.
  • Someone who is suicidal may be ashamed. Remind the person that guilt is also a treatable symptom.
  • Try to elicit the person's suicide plan.
  • Don't try to handle the crisis alone. Encourage the person to get professional help or contact the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) The Lifeline is staffed 24 hours a day, every day and all calls are confidential

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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."