My loved one who is an older adult (65+) is showing warning signs of suicide. What can I do?
Suicide rates in older adults (65+) are higher than you might think. In 2020, adults aged 75 and older had the highest suicide rates of any age group. While older adulthood can be a time of newfound freedom to focus on fun and family, it can also be a time of many difficult life changes like losing loved ones, experiencing more health concerns, and having less independence. These life changes can come alongside feelings of grief, sadness, isolation, and despair, and some older adults may start thinking of suicide as a way to escape these painful emotions.
Warning Signs of Suicide
Your loved one may show the following warning signs if they are thinking about suicide:
- Depressed moods
- Feelings of hopelessness, despair, or guilt
- Little interest in making in making future plans
- Increased substance use or medication misuse
- Behavior changes
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- High risk behavior (e.g., reckless driving, unsafe use of guns, etc.)
- Neglecting personal hygiene
- Making preparations
- Giving away possessions
- Putting personal affairs in order
- Saying goodbye to family and friends
- Researching methods of suicide
- Your loved one talks about things like:
- Being a burden to others (“They’re better off without me”)
- Unbearable pain (“I can’t keep doing this”)
- Having no reason to live (“What’s the point?”)
- Being preoccupied with thoughts of death (their own death, the subject of death)
You may wish to consult the Risk of Suicide page on NAMI’s website that further details warning signs and risk factors of suicide, along with guidance on how to support your loved one experiencing suicidal thoughts.
What Can I Do to Help?
Ask Your Loved One About Suicide
If your loved one has been showing warning signs of suicide, you should ask them directly if they are thinking about ending their life. Research shows that asking about suicide does NOT make it more likely that someone will take their life. Instead, asking about suicide allows people the chance to talk about a topic that is often seen as painful, shameful, or isolating. Be sure to talk with your loved one privately, listen to them without judgment, and take their thoughts of suicide seriously.
If Your Loved One is in Imminent Danger– Immediate Intervention
Imminent danger means that your loved one has a plan to die by suicide and has the desire and ability to follow through with this plan right now. If your loved one is in imminent danger of suicide, you should immediately take them to the nearest emergency room for evaluation and treatment. Remove any lethal means (firearms, medications) that your loved one has access to in their home.
You can also contact a local Mobile Crisis Unit (MCU) or Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team. This is a mental health emergency service offered by many (but not all) counties across the nation to provide on-scene evaluation, treatment and crisis intervention in the community. An MCU will work with your loved one to assess their needs and identify the best treatment options.MCUs can also authorize involuntary hospitalization and treatment when necessary. For information about the availability of mobile crisis services in your area or when it is appropriate to call, contact 211.
Another option is to call or text "988” to reach the 988Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a 24/7 crisis support network with trained crisis workers who can guide you through options to help your loved one with their thoughts of suicide. The Suicide & Crisis Lifeline can also provide information on local resources, including treatment.
- To reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for veterans, select "1"
- To reach Nacional de Prevención del Suicidio (Spanish) select "2"
- Lifeline Options for Deaf + Hard of Hearing for TTY Users: use your preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988. You may also text 988, or chat function is available here at 988Lifeline.org
The Crisis Text Line also provides a free, confidential texting service that is available 24/7 in the United States. They can be reached by texting HOME to 741741.
If Your Loved One is NOT in Imminent Danger– Connect to Help
You should urge your loved one to get help for their suicidal thoughts right away.Let them know that their thoughts are serious, and help is available. Ask your loved one if they would like to call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline together to receive support and treatment options.
If your loved one is seeing a mental health professional like a therapist or psychiatrist, encourage them to tell their mental health provider about how they have been feeling. If your loved one is not seeing a mental health professional, help them schedule an appointment with their Primary Care Provider (PCP). PCPs can rule out any physical health conditions or medication side effects that may be affecting your loved one’s mood and well-being. They can also provide a referral to a mental or behavioral healthcare provider.
Below are resources for finding information and support groups to help cope with the impact that suicide may have on you, your loved one, or your family.
- Speaking of Suicide.com is a website for individuals and their loved ones and survivors that provides extensive information on resources for help. In particular, the website provides extensive information in its Friends and Family section on how to talk with and help someone who is having suicidal thoughts.
- American Association of Suicidology is a national directory for suicide resources, statistics, etc. They maintain a support group finder for attempt survivors and loss survivors.
- The Alliance of Hope for Suicide Loss Survivors offers support services, support group locator, blog, resources, memorial wall, and information for people who are coping with suicide-related loss.
- Carson’s Village is a free service to assist families in managing practical details immediately following the sudden loss of a loved one by providing free peer advocacy to help families plan/navigate details from loss to funeral. The organization is currently serving 18 states.