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Senior suicide is on the rise — what can we do to stop it?

Posted at 3:30 AM, Jun 12, 2018

If you or someone you know might be at risk of suicide, call 1-800-273-8255 any time to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The Crisis Text Line is available at 741-741 for those who might be uncomfortable with a phone call. Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center also has a list of local phone numbers and other resources for help here.

CINCINNATI -- Overall rates of suicide in the United States have jumped by 25 percent since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

These lonely deaths comprise a quiet public health crisis that can affect members of any social group, but caregivers in Ohio are especially concerned about one in particular: Seniors.

"We have seen an increase in seniors (seeking help)," Butler Behavioral Health Services CEO Randy Allman said. "We've seen an increase in why they're coming: Social isolation, feeling lonely, feeling like they're not in a purposeful lifestyle, lack of healthcare, lack of activities."

Suicide among seniors has increased 12 percent nationwide since 2014, according to United Health Foundation. Without help, older Americans -- especially men -- may develop suicidal urges as they lose the personal independence and social connections that once defined them. Health problems associated with old age can make the pit feel even deeper.

Butler Behavioral Health provides mental health care for seniors who seek it, but Allman said the growing problem of senior suicide will become more pressing in public health as the senior population itself expands.

"It doesn't surprise me that we see more complex social issues for the senior population because they're growing," Allman said. "We need to make sure there's the necessary funding attached to that for local services."

That includes funding for social programs such as Butler Behavioral Health as well as for programs like those in Maple Knoll Village, a retirement community in which residents take frequent coordinated trips to restaurants, concerts and other activities outside the community.

"It keeps us on the go, and being with other people is important," 82-year-old resident Dee Hileman said.

"Keeps us young!" added 84-year-old Nancy Brown.

For those who suspect seniors in their life might be battling depression or suicidal urges, Allman said a straightforward question is sometimes the best approach.

"Many times, when someone is asked, ‘Are you feeling suicidal?' -- just very directly -- that person is glad that someone asked them," he said.