Youth & Elder Suicide

Suicide in older adults is a phenomenon that is often ignored; attracting less attention than suicide in younger populations, particularly adolescents and young adults. Generally society is more accepting of death in older adults or views the death of an older adult as less tragic. This may be the manifestation of ageism; a negative attitude or belief that older adults’ lives are less valuable or that older adults are less deserving. The suicide death of an older adult is no less impactful on the survivors than the loss of someone younger. The combination of the stigma of suicide and ageism may even complicate the grief process for the survivor. Suicide is always about an intolerable, unendurable pain and is always tragic regardless of age.

Adults over the age of 65 have the highest rates of suicide than any other age group. Older men are at especially high risk and the most lethal of all groups. Older adults die by suicide at a rate approximately 1.5x that of the general population. The ratio of suicidal behaviour to suicide deaths is 1-4:1 versus a rate of 200-300:1 in adolescents and young adults; they also tend to use more lethal means of self-injury.

In addition to the risk factors for all age groups, major risk factors for older adults include:

  • Expression of an active or passive (i.e.: refusing to eat or drink, medications, medical treatment) wish to die.
  • Neurological disorders, cancer, respiratory disease, sensory loss i.e.: vision, hearing
  • The prospect of living with dementia
  • Impairment of ones’ ability to perform the activities of daily living

Suicide by older adults is often preceded by visits to a health care professional. They have often visited their primary health care provider in the days or weeks preceding the suicide. Older adults rarely seek help directly from mental health care professionals prior to a suicide. It is important to know that as with other populations recovery is possible and help is available.

Statistics Canada estimates that by 2016 the number of Canadians over age 65 will begin to outnumber those under age 15 and that by 2021 18% of the population will be over age 65. Considering the high rates of suicide among older adults and the impending demographic shift, suicide among older adults demands our attention and efforts to prevent these tragedies.

For more information about suicide in older adults please visit The Canadian Coalition for Seniors’ Mental Health (CCSMH)

To download a copy of “Suicide Prevention among Older Adults: a guide for family members” click here:

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Source: Canadian Coalition for Senior’s Mental Health

Suicide and Youth

During the last half of the 20th century the rate of suicide in adolescents has increased faster than any other age group. Today, suicide is the second leading cause of death amongst 15-24 year olds.

Adolescence is a time of significant change characterized by rapid physical and psychological growth and major life transitions. This is a period when individuals begin to develop the ability to think abstractedly and learn to problem solve. Rapid physical growth and hormonal changes can lead to a greater sense of self consciousness and introspection. This increased focus on the self, coupled with underdeveloped problem solving and an inability to view life from a “big picture” perspective can make seemingly minor events appear overwhelmingly significant. An inability to see that things can and will improve may lead to hopelessness/helplessness and put a young person at risk of suicide.

We need to be aware of the pressures experienced by youth such as:

  • expectation to decide a future career path
  • expectation to meet academic standards
  • expectation to perform in non-academic activities i.e.: sports, music, dance, etc.
  • balance school work, social activities, employment and family responsibilities

Complicating factors could include:

  • an unstable family life
  • frequent moves
  • previous trauma
  • bullying
  • dating relationships
  • sexual orientation
  • substance use

According to Statistics Canada, in 2009 the rate of suicide in youth between the ages of 15 -19 years was 9/100,000 and 11.9/100,000 between the ages of 20 – 24 years. Further breakdown shows the rate of male suicide in youth 15 -19 years was 12.6/100,000 compared to the rate of female suicide 15 -19 years of 5.2/100,000. In youth between ages 20 – 24 years the rate of suicide in males was 17.1/100,000 compared to the rate of female suicide 20 – 24 years of 6.5/100,000.

There is an estimated 200-300 youth that attempt suicide for every suicide death; a statistic that illustrates the level of distress that may be experienced by our youth.

The increase in suicide amongst 20 – 24 year olds coincides with the transition to college/university when youth have often moved away from their family and friends. For most of us this is our first experience living on our own without our traditional support system. We may experience difficulties with sleep and nutrition and feel increased pressured to perform in a highly competitive environment.

We can help by:

Assisting the youth to build connections.

Everyone has a need to belong and feel connected. A sense of connectedness is an important factor in the prevention of suicide. Helping young people to develop and support those connections that give them meaning and a reason to live help to build resiliency and reduce risk of suicide.

Assisting the youth to identify their strengths and positive coping strategies.

Ask questions that encourage youth to identify activities they engage in to help themselves feel better and encourage positive coping methods. i.e.: When do you feel good about yourself? What is it about … that makes you feel good about yourself? How does … help when you are feeling stressed? What other situations do you think you could use … to cope?

Assisting the youth to create a network of support.

Encourage relationships that are open, caring, non-judgmental, that communicate positive messages and support self-efficacy. Model behaviours and attitudes that demonstrate open and direct communication, optimism and positive coping methods.