This group of people are more likely to tell you if they want to commit suicide

Older people were more intent on telling someone before committing suicide.
Older people were more intent on telling someone before committing suicide.

Nearly one-quarter of older Americans who took their own lives told someone about their intentions before doing so, a new study reveals.

According to the WHO, around one million people worldwide die from suicide every year and predictions are that by 2020 this figure is likely to escalate to approximately 1.53 million. 

Recent research in South Africa shows that on average, suicide accounts for 9.5% of non-natural deaths in young people and 11% in adults.

Opportunity for prevention

Researchers reviewed 10 years of national data and found that 23% of people aged 50 and older who killed themselves had disclosed their suicide intent. The older they were, the more likely they were to disclose, the investigators found.

Any indication of suicidal thoughts is an opportunity for prevention, said study lead investigator Namkee Choi. She is chair in gerontology at the University of Texas at Austin.

Doctors and others "need better preparation to screen and aid those in need to prevent suicide", Choi said.

Providing services

People with depression and health problems, and those who had recently received mental health care or treatment for drug or alcohol abuse, were also likely to say something before trying to kill themselves, the study found.

Disclosure was most often to an intimate partner or other family member, the findings showed. Few older adults who died by suicide had talked about it with a health care professional.

People who killed themselves with guns or through hanging/suffocation were less likely to disclose their intentions ahead of time. Among those who used guns, disclosure was more common among men than women, according to the report.

The findings were published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"Depressed mood, health problems and other stressors were associated with increased odds of disclosure," Choi said in a journal news release. So a "suicide may have been prevented by providing the services needed to alleviate these problems," she suggested.

Spot the signs

If you suspect that a family member might be prone to suicide, always watch out for these warning signs:

  • Increased substance abuse
  • Dramatic mood changes
  • Anxiety
  • A change in eating patterns
  • Difficulty sleeping 

Image credit: iStock

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