Contributed by Ethan R. Kent, MSW, LCSW, LSCSW, CAGCS
Program Director | Senior Life Solutions @ Excelsior Springs Hospital
This month, when we help so many, we cannot lose focus on those who lost their lives before they could get the help they needed. Sobering data was released this year by the Trust for America’s Health Foundation on death by suicide, drug, and alcohol abuse. In 2020, 186,763 lives were lost to suicide, drug, and alcohol abuse, an increase of 20% from 2019.
Unfortunately, unlike a physical illness where you can perform an x-ray to determine if your arm is broken, there is no one way to ensure we have identified someone at risk for suicide. Arming ourselves with the most up-to-date evidence on how best to identify warning signs and intervene is imperative in the effort to stop suicides in our nation.
In 2011, after realizing that only two interventions (brief intervention and contact) had been empirically proven to prevent suicide and only one modality of therapy (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy/DBT) had been shown to prevent suicide in more than one trial, researchers wanted to push to learn more about identifying an individual at risk for suicide. They developed the Interpersonal Theory of Suicide (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3130348/). The theory consists of three parts:
- Thwarted belongingness: feeling like one does not belong, experiencing chronic loneliness, and the lack of reciprocally caring relationships
- Perceived burdensomeness: the perception, not the reality, that one is a burden and others would be better off without them
- Acquired capability to enact lethal self-harm: fearlessness about dying and pain tolerance
These feelings can be seen across all age ranges, but with the highest death by suicide rate in our nation being the elderly, you can see how some of the life changes that occur with aging could lead to older adults experiencing an increase in these feelings The National Council on Aging recently shared warning signs for increased risk of suicidal thoughts in the elderly (https://ncoa.org/article/how-to-respond-to-suicide-risk-in-older-adults):
- Social isolation and loneliness (e.g., living alone, being a widow/widower, low social support)
- Physical and mental health problems
- Chronic pain
- Stressful life events (e.g., financial discord, death/divorce)
- Need for home-based care, loss of functioning with activities of daily living (ADL)
Remember, Senior Life Solutions is Excelsior Springs Hospital’s program, designed to meet the unique needs of individuals typically 65 and older, experiencing depression or anxiety related to life changes that are often associated with aging. If you or someone you know is struggling with a decline in your mental health, our program wants you to know we are here to help. Whether through our program, or another service, our team works to identify and address the emotional needs of those in our community and provide support.
If you need more information, education, or would like to discuss support, please call 816-629-2629 or visit Senior Life Solutions – Excelsior Springs Hospital (eshospital.org).