Available literature demonstrates that suicide in old age remains a neglected topic in spite of the fact that the highest suicide rates are found among the older people (Malfent, Wondrak, Kapusta, & Sonneck, 2010). Indeed, according to these authors, there is a clear lack of information on the factors that protect the elderly from suicidal ideation, not mentioning that the prevalence rate of suicide among the elderly remains unknown not only in the United States, but also globally. Suicidal ideation among the elderly is both a psychological and social issue, but in this paper it shall be evaluated from a social perspective and a potential solution given to assist social workers and other interested parties to address the problem.
Suicidal ideation entails thinking about, considering, or planning for suicide through the use of methods such as hanging, suffocation, poising by drugs, using firearms, and jumping from a high place. Existing scholarship on suicide among the elderly demonstrates that the circumstances leading up to a suicide attempt among the older people involve moribund health including chronic pain from diseases such as dementia, social isolation, absence of social support systems, stress-related symptoms such as depression and hopelessness, physical or economic dependency, mental and/or physical health challenges, alcoholism, and caregiver stress (Malfent et al., 2010).
Whilst it is clear from the reading that a considerable number of the elderly who commit suicide are faced with psychosocial challenges such as major depression and affective disorders, suicide seems to be due to social challenges faced by this group of the population, such as society’s attitudes towards the elderly, poor health, neglect and social isolation, functional impairment, as well as lack of sufficient social support systems to cater for them (Malfent et al., 2010). As a matter of fact, a considerable proportion of the elderly has been found to develop depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation due to their perceived burdensomeness on caregivers, who may be their own children or relatives. Perceived burdensomeness, in my view, has a social connotation in that it exposes a lack of knowledge and understanding not only on how the caregiver-receiver relationship should be constructed, but also how perceived burdensomeness by the elderly acts as a risk factor to suicidal ideation.
Owing to the fact that this problem is primarily caused by psychological, social and health-related issues, it requires a multi-disciplinary approach involving social workers, nursing professionals working in residential care homes, as well as physicians. It is proposed that the mentioned professionals undergo comprehensive training and be exposed to intense field experiences with suicidal older adults, with the view to developing an empirical knowledge base required in practice settings to develop and implement effective suicide prevention approaches. There is an urgent need to train social workers and other parties on the defensive factors (e.g., internal locus of control, self-efficacy, and life satisfaction) that may be used older persons to minimize depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation, and other risk factors.
Overall, it is clear from the exposition of the problem that a multiplicity of social factors and triggers are involved in driving the older people to suicidal ideation. Of course the psychological and health factors are equally important, but the social context leading to suicidal ideation needs to be considered in much more detail if efforts aimed at addressing the problem are to succeed. Additionally, a multidisciplinary approach needs to be taken in terms of training professionals and exposing them to intense field experiences, with the view to developing an understanding of how they should deal with this group of the population.
Malfent, D., Wondrak, T., Kapusta, N.D., & Sonneck, G. (2010). Suicidal ideation and its correlates among elderly in residential care homes. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 25(8), 843-849.