According to findings by the National Institute of Mental Health, older Americans are disproportionately likely to commit suicide. While people 65 and older make up only 12 percent of the population, they accounted for 16 percent of suicide deaths in 2004.

Non-Hispanic white men age 85 and older were most likely to commit suicide. They had a rate of 49.8 suicide deaths per 100,000 persons in that age group.

Depression is a likely culprit. Many older adults suffer from an under-recognized and undertreated medical illness, and almost 75 percent of those who do commit suicide had seen a physician within a month before.

The risk of depression in older adults increases when combined with other illnesses and when independence becomes limited. Major depression in older people living on their own in the community range from 1 to 5 percent but rises to 13.5 percent in those who require homecare and to 11.5 percent in elderly hospital patients.

A reason for being undertreated could be that an estimated 5 million elderly citizens have symptoms that fall short of meeting the full diagnostic criteria for a disorder, called subsyndromal depression.

While emotional experiences of sadness, grief and passing “blue” moods are normal in aging, persistent depression that interferes with the ability to function is not.

Some health professionals may mistakenly think continual depression is a normal response to other serious illnesses as well as other hardships that can accompany aging, which then contributes to low rates of diagnosis and treatment in older adults.

Source: National Institute on Mental Health