EL PASO, Texas (KVIA) -- It's National Senior Citizen's Day, a chance to check in with older Americans and recognize their accomplishments. It's also a chance to look into the mental health of our elders.
For older Americans, mental health can be a real concern. Often, elders are left alone to fend for themselves throughout the day, sometimes without people to talk to. Elder care experts warn that suicide and depression are serious risks for elder people living or staying alone.
Caretakers tell ABC-7 that seniors can start judging themselves when left alone for too long -- and ignore their own needs. Simultaneously, isolation can lead to neglect and abuse for seniors.
According to the National Council on Aging, roughly 18% of suicides nationwide are older adults. In 2020, 9,100 suicides were seniors over 65. One in four seniors succeed in a suicide attempt, and if they do survive, they are less likely to fully recover.
Experts believe there are many potential causes for suicide. It could stem from the loss of a partner or child, chronic pain, or mental deterioration due to diseases like Alzheimer's.
Two other big factors in senior suicides are loss of self-sufficiency in their everyday life, and financial struggles. These can accelerate senior's interest in suicide or death, according to the NCOA.
Checking in, talking and digging deeper into older folks thoughts can make a huge difference, according to caregivers and researchers with the NCOA & Texas Adult Protective Services.
Senior suicide researchers have identified some warning signs of suicidal behavior in seniors. They say neglecting self-care, preoccupation with death, and avoiding going out or seeing people can all be warning signs.
Experts with Texas Adult Services say that supporting seniors who are experiencing dark thoughts can start with a conversation. Asking directly about their feelings, checking in with them regularly, and connecting them with others are key ways to improve -- and maintain -- good mental spaces.
Avery Martinez covers mental health in the Borderland as part of ABC-7’s Be Mindful initiative. He is also a Report for America corps member. RFA places talented, emerging journalists in newsrooms like ABC-7’s to report on under-covered issues and communities. Report for America is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, an award-winning nonprofit journalism organization dedicated to rebuilding journalism from the ground up.