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Why Is The Suicide Rate So High For Men In Their Golden Years?


Publisher’s Note:  When Mr. Free Spirit told me that he was conducting research for an article that he was writing detailing the high suicide rate for retired men, I immediately thought about the number of retired NFL football players who have committed suicide and the celebrity deaths “Soul Train” icon Don Cornelius, actor Robin Williams and former CNN correspondent Anthony Bourdain.  I think that mental health awareness and education is a very important topic and something that we want to highlight here on this website.

The National Institute of Mental Health finds that men are less likely to seek support as they struggle with depression. Depression can take away anyone’s moments of peace and restfulness, but men may be statistically more likely to experience disruptions to their sleep cycles.  Sleep deprivation comes with a host of other difficulties: irritability, loss of motivation, physical fatigue, compensating by oversleeping, etc.  Most dishearteningly, men are more likely to be successful in taking their own lives.  I want to thank Mr. Free Spirit for writing this article and I encourage everyone to be patient, caring and kind when you encounter those who struggle with some aspects of life in hopes that we can prevent them from committing suicide.  For more help and information call 1-800-273-8255 or 1-800-SUICIDE. 

Gary Johnson – Founder & Publisher, Black Men In

Why Is The Suicide Rate So High For Men In Their Golden Years?

By Mr. Free Spirit

Since my retirement I decided to rewire and not retire. Retirement means different things to different people. Is money an important factor? YES, however other things are equally important. Nothing to do will either kill you or place you in a state of depression. Mental illness can be accelerated based on having “nothing to do.”

Did you know the suicide rate in elderly men is high?

For most people, psychological well-being increases later in life, following a well-known U-shaped curve: people report less satisfaction in midlife and more at either end of the age spectrum. Paradoxically, though, suicide rates also rise sharply. Older white men are particularly at risk.

Among Americans of all ages, 12.4 per 100,000 take their own lives each year, according to 2010 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But among those over 65, the official number is 14.9, and suicide may be under-reported. Because of the stigma, “coroners will go to great lengths to call it something else,” said Patrick Arbore, founder and director of the Center for Elderly Suicide Prevention in San Francisco. “If it’s an overdose, they can call it an accident.”

Though suicides among older people have declined in recent decades, most likely because of improved screening and treatment for depression, they remain disturbingly high among men. Suicides by women decline after age 60, but the rate among men keeps climbing. Elderly white men have the highest rate: 29 per 100,000 overalls, and more than 47 per 100,000 among those over age 85.

  • Males accounted for 81.5% of suicides completed by elderly African Americans (ages 65+). This percentage is mirrored by the suicides completed by elderly Caucasian men.

Why are suicide rates so high among seniors?  We know that while older people make fewer suicide attempts than the young, they are far more likely to die from them, in part because they rely primarily on guns. “Younger people have more physical resilience and use less lethal means,” said Dr. Yeates Conwell, a psychiatrist at the University of Rochester Medical Center who has studied late-life suicide.

Moreover, depression is behind many suicide attempts, and “a lot of older people have problems asking for help.”

Depression can involve different symptoms in older patients, and “men are good at masking it, because we’ve been conditioned to believe it’s not O.K. to express emotional pain.”

Beyond mental illness, researchers have identified a cluster of other risk factors in late-life suicide, including physical illness and pain, the inability to function in daily life, fear of becoming a burden and social disconnection. “Things that remove older people from their social groups — bereavement, retirement, isolation — leave them vulnerable,” Dr. Conwell said.

Knowing that some readers here have announced that they want to end their lives if (or before) they are suffering, seeing that as an exercise of personal autonomy rather than mental illness, I asked both experts if they thought suicide could ever be a rational act. If life loses pleasure and meaning, with or without a terminal disease, can suicide be a legitimate response?

Both said, cautiously, that in certain situations, after a great deal of discussion and consideration, it could be — but that’s rarely what occurs.

“The proportion of older people who take their lives without a diagnosable mental illness is very, very small,” Dr. Conwell said. Because elderly suicide is generally a result of multiple factors — physical illness and depression and a recent loss, say — “if you change one of those parameters, it may tip the balance in favor of finding solutions that help you want to live.”

At the Center for Elderly Suicide Prevention, staff and volunteers handle 3,000 calls a month to the “friendship line” (a name deemed more acceptable to seniors than “suicide hotline”). They also place 3,500 outgoing calls to people considered isolated or otherwise at risk.

“We believe connections are what bind us to life, just having the opportunity to talk might shift their view of the end, temporarily. It might not have to happen today.”

Such opportunities to talk, in ways tailored to older adults, should be more widely available than they are. (One resource is the Veterans Affairs Department’s Veterans Crisis Line.) Instead, the task of trying to recognize elderly depression and encourage treatment falls largely to primary care physicians and, of course, to family members, who should always take suicidal talk seriously. When a depressed and hopeless relative commits suicide, the family must cope not only with grief but often with guilt and unanswered questions.

Now that you have read the above, you understand being rewired not retired. During your years before retirement you had a talent for some sort that you enjoyed. No matter what it was you enjoyed it. Well, now that you are thinking about retiring or you have retired. Try doing want you always wanted to do. Maybe it’s fishing, so buy some new rods and develop your skills and fish. Maybe you are good with your hands, be the local handyman. No matter what it is, don’t sit and watch grass grow or paint dry, do something!!!

Mr. Free Spirit out!!!

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.


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