Earlier this year the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released their 2013 report on causes of death in Australia. The report identified heart disease as the leading cause of death accounting for almost 20,000 deaths. Deaths from Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease have increased 30 percent in the past five years and are now the second leading cause of death.
Suicide accounted for 2,522 deaths in 2013 at a standardised death rate of 10.7 per 100,000 people. Suicide is the 14th leading cause of death. It is estimated that suicide costs the country something like $17 billion a year. The median age at death for suicides is lower than for many other causes at 44.5 years of age. As a result, suicide accounted for over 85,032 years of life lost making it the leading cause of premature death in Australia.
Brian Draper, Conjoint Professor of Psychiatry at UNSW Australia, points out that men aged 85 years and over have the highest suicide rates. Over 38 men in every 100,000 of that age group die by suicide. Men in this age group were three times more likely to kill themselves than the national average.
We have an original water colour painting in our study. The artist was a friend of my fathers. I met him on several occasions when he came to our house. He was a dignified man and fiercely independent. His paintings were precise reflecting an eye for perspective. He gave his paintings away to charity to be auctioned or donated them to the local hospital to hang on their walls. He was 96 when concerned family members thought he needed additional support and made plans to have him admitted to an aged care facility. I don’t know the extent of the discussions or whether other alternatives were considered but my father’s friend took his life. His body was found in the garage.
Some of the issues that cause older men to take their life include severe depression, loneliness, social isolation and lack of social support; physical health issues, such as pain and cancer; and loss of independence.
Dr. Yeates Conwell, a psychiatrist at the University of Rochester Medical Centre, has studied late-life suicide. He says, “Things that remove older people from their social groups — bereavement, retirement, isolation — leave them vulnerable.”
If we are to actively promote suicide prevention in older men the following actions, as outlined by Steve Wilson, are crucial.
- Early intervention – Acting on clues in changes in personality, behaviors and routines; talking honestly with the adult about their feelings of depression
- Supporting medical treatment – Helping the at-risk individual maintain their medical regime and ensuring they are able to get to appointments
- Maintaining social connections – Ensuring they have an engaging social calendar and are able to indulge in interests they are passionate about.