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Why older adults have the highest suicide rate: Signs, resources and how we can help

Posted at 7:53 PM, Oct 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-31 23:38:17-04

October 31st marks the end of National Depression and Mental Health Screening Month. But addressing mental health should be a focus year round.

I spoke to a local woman who talked about her own challenges and why it's important to fight the stigma. I also took a closer look at local data and asked health officials, what can we do to help those who are most vulnerable.

TRIGGER WARNING: DISCUSSIONS OF SUICIDE AND SUICIDAL IDEATION.

If you need mental health support, call or text the national suicide and crisis lifeline — 988.

When I met Brenda Mack, she is all smiles. She can easily make anyone laugh.

But behind her smile is a story of a suicide attempt survivor.

"My medication wasn't working for me. I was gonna commit suicide and someone smiled at me at a grocery store. That gave me hope."

I asked her, "Do you think that person saved your life?". Mack says, "Absolutely! And that's why I smile wherever I go. Because you never know!"

Brenda told me, she comes from a background of abuse and mental illness. She's worked through a lifetime of pain and survived several suicide attempts.

"I've had numerous tries and I tell everybody, I suck at suicide. That is why I'm still here. And people wouldn't laugh. It's ok to laugh. It's honest to god truth."

She is now working with local groups to reach out to others like her who are also struggling.

After recently losing friends to suicide, she's sharing her story with us — hoping it will help someone.

"Life is always worth living. This is the thing that I have figured out. Every day is not happy but I am grateful that I am breathing."

OLDER ADULTS AND MENTAL HEALTH CHALLENGES

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. affecting people of all ages.

But adults over the age of 60 are disproportionately affected. Older adults make up about 12% of the us population but account for about 18% of suicides.

San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara county health officials tell me, we're also seeing this alarming trend on the central coast.

Brita Connelly, a Suicide Prevention Coordinator for SLO County, explain why older adults are at risk. "You are looking at a diagnosis that maybe someone has received recently or is greatly impacting their life. Another one is disability again can add to that isolation. Inability to get out of the house and get those community connections."

Recent data show adults 60 and older account for 48% of deaths by suicide in SLO county and 33% in Santa Barbara County.

Health officials say older adults are less likely to talk about their mental health. It's important to know the signs.

Suzanne Grimmsey of Santa Barbara County's Department of Behavioral Wellness, describes the signs to look out for. "If someone seems like they're more tired than usual. They seem like they're in pain than they usually are. Perhaps we should give your doctor a call because you shouldn't be feeling this tired. Things like that would make a lot more sense to someone that's older than talking about mental health symptoms."

Older adults also have higher rates of depression than the general population.

Men over 65 face the highest overall rate of suicide.

So reach out if you notice changes in enjoyment and increasing isolation in your loved one.

"Let the person you're there for them to talk ongoing and then stay connected. If the person you're talking to does not wish to share at that time, check back again at a later time and stay connected," says Grimmsey.

As someone whose mind has been to dark places many times, Brenda Mack says listening can make all the difference. "They don't wanna be judged. They just wanna be heard."

Brenda wants you to know there are people who care.

"There's no shame in struggling. There's no shame in needing help. It doesn't mean that you are weak. It means that you need support. So that in the future, you can support someone else."

RESOURCES:

When you are worried about someone’s – or your own – mental health, there are places to turn for guidance.

You can call or text the national hotline 988 or chat at 988lifeline.org

211 is a non-emergency telephone number that connects individuals and families with information and community resources,

The California Peer-Run Warmline is available for mental and emotional support at (855) 845-7415.

Transitions Mental Health provides psychiatric, therapy, and case management mental health services for SLO and Northern Santa Barbara County.

SLO County:

Santa Barbara County:

  • Call the 24/7 Access Line at 888-868-1649
  • Behavioral Wellness resources for all ages can be found here
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness Santa Barbara County provides free counseling services in person or via zoom. For more information, call Meggan Rodarte at 805-458-2674 or email: mrodarte@t-mha.org.
  • CalHOPE by chat calhopeconnect.org or call 833-317-4673 (HOPE)
  • For older adults, the Santa Barbara County Adult & Aging Network (AAN) is a group of service providers and stakeholders who coordinate efforts and advise elected officials regarding older adults and people with disabilities