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Is Suicide Ever Okay?

Image of suicide awareness suicide among seniors suicide mental health family caregivers depression aging parents  on estate management asset protection law site

When, if ever is death by suicide acceptable?

In my elder care and estate planning legal practice, I am often discussing health care advanced directives and end of life choices with my clients. A majority of my clients express that they do not want to live if they do not have a certain “quality of life.”

Everyone defines quality of life differently. For some, lack of quality of life means living with memory loss and/or when they can no longer express recognition of family members. For others, lack of quality of life means they feel they have no purpose or ways to contribute in a meaningful way. Yet, for others it means they feel like they are a burden on loved ones. In these types of circumstances is suicide okay?

The Importance Of Awareness

Awareness is the first step toward change. We often hear that suicide is a selfish act or the ultimate “F-U.” I don’t’ agree. My mother committed suicide with I was 6 years old. I know my mother did the best she could with her struggles. She had bipolar disorder before it was readily recognized and long before adequate treatment became available. If we keep avoiding the topic, we won’t understand how to help those who need help.

Suicide Among Older Men A Silent Epidemic

Recently an elderly male client expressed in our meeting that he would shoot himself if he ever got to a point where he could not take care of himself. This is not uncommon. In fact public health practitioners often call suicide in older men “the silent epidemic.” According to the Centers for Disease Control, “men 75 and older have a suicide rate nearly 30 percent higher than any other age group.”

I understand the inclination toward suicide specifically among older men. When I worked as a nurse’s aide in a nursing home I spent many days with men literally crying when I cleaned them up after a bowel movement because they were so embarrassed. My elderly client’s daughter, the one who said he would shoot himself — would not discuss the topic and emotionally shut her father down completely. She wouldn’t even let him express his feelings, which left him feeling even more alone and depressed.

The Role Of Caregivers And Regular Social Interaction In Preventing Suicide

Older men who have a spouse, adult child, home health aide, caregiver or close friend who lends a hand on a regular basis have a potentially powerful ally when it comes to reducing their risk of suicide. Regular social interaction and social engagement are important in the prevention of suicide.

Awareness of some of the common warning signs of suicide are important. Warning signs include but are not exclusive to increased alcohol and drug use; aggressive behavior; withdrawal from friends, family and community; dramatic mood swings and impulsive or reckless behavior.

Keep The Conversation Going

As difficult as it may be, the numbers of deaths by suicide are increasing among the young and the old. According to the American Foundation For Suicide Prevention, in 2017 there were 1.5 million suicide attempts in the U.S.

We must have real, meaningful conversations about this difficult topic. Otherwise the silent epidemic will continue and those of us left behind will continue to live with the pain. I discussed the signs of depression and ways to eliminate or minimize it for Senior Citizens on Senior Salute Podcast . You can listen to the replay here: