Dr. Helen

These Facts on Elderly Men and Suicide Are Truly Heartbreaking

I was doing some research on suicide and ran across some facts and figures that I thought would be of interest to readers:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collects data about mortality in the U.S., including deaths by suicide. In 2012 (the most recent year for which full data are available), 40,600 suicides were reported, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans (Figure 1). In that year, someone in the country died by suicide every 12.9 minutes.

After cancer and heart disease, suicide accounts for more years of life lost than any other cause of death.

To measure changes in the prevalence of suicide over time, the CDC calculates the country’s suicide rate each year. The suicide rate expresses the number of suicide deaths that occur for every 100,000 people in the population for which the rate is reported.

From 1986 to 2000, suicide rates in the U.S. dropped from 12.5 to 10.4 suicide deaths per 100,000 people in the population. Over the next 12 years, however, the rate generally increased and by 2012 stood at 12.5 deaths per 100,000…

In 2012, the highest suicide rate (19.88) was among people 45 to 59 years old. The second highest rate (17) occurred in those 75 years and older. Younger groups have had consistently lower suicide rates than middle-aged and older adults.

One thing that struck me was how many men over 75 commit suicide every year. A WP article notes the increase:

Seniors, many of them depressed, commit suicide at an alarming rate. White men 85 and older are more likely to commit suicide than Americans in any other age group — taking their lives at four times the rate of the general population.

According to 2012 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 51 of every 100,000 white men age 85 and older committed suicide, compared with the national average for all ages of 12.6. Of the 40,600 Americans who took their own lives in 2012, 6,648 were older than 65.

Older men are such an overlooked group, it is not surprising that they suffer from undiagnosed depression and subsequently take their own lives out of desperation, hopelessness and despair. It is truly heartbreaking that our society places so little value on their lives that death seems to be the only answer. Surely, there must be a better solution and a way to reduce the suicide rate for older men. If we focused as much on male suicide as we do on women’s breast cancer, fewer suicides might result. The notion that males are disposable must play some part here in the thinking process of older suicide victims. How to provide prevention as well as intervention is key.