R U OK Day highlights importance of support for seniors

With suicides among senior males on the increase, this R U OK Day we have a look at contributing factors and how community support can help.

Australian Bureau of Statistics suicide rates from 2017 shows that the age-specific suicide rate was highest in men aged 85 or above (32.8 per 100,000), which has been the age group with the highest rate since 2011.

While depression is the factor we most associate with suicide, in senior suicides there can be a range of contributing factors, including:

  • physical or economic dependency
  • mental and/or physical health problems
  • chronic pain
  • grief
  • loneliness
  • alcoholism
  • carer stress

Professor Brian Draper, Conjoint Professor in the School of Psychiatry at UNSW and Assistant Director, Academic Department for Old Age Psychiatry at the Prince of Wales Hospital Sydney, believes suicide in old age remains a neglected topic and says that there are a variety of circumstances leading to a suicide attempt in the senior years, usually involving “…declining health including chronic pain, in combination with social isolation, lack of social support, and evolving depression and hopelessness.”

With social isolation and lack of social support such big factors that can reduce quality of life for older people, R U OK Day is a reminder about the importance of making time to chat and listen to an older loved one who may be experiencing any of the above difficulties.

RU OK Day suggests four conversation steps:

  1. Ask R U OK in a quiet and comfortable location
  2. Listen to the response in a non-judgemental way without trying to fix the problem
  3. Encourage action such as speaking to a friend, family member or professional
  4. Check in regularly to remind them you’re here for them

Other ideas to support an older loved one living in their own home:

  • Pop round for a cuppa regularly
  • Ask them what activities they’d like to do and support them to access these activities. Home care providers can help with social support activities.
  • Ensure they’re getting the right amount of care and support in the home.
  • If they’re a carer, ask how you can help them. They may benefit from some day respite or short term care so they can recharge their batteries.
  • Arrange group catch-ups with others in similar situations
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