Suicidal thoughts, much like mental health conditions, can affect anyone regardless of age, gender or background. In fact, suicide is often the result of an untreated mental health condition.
But new data shows that senior adults suffered the largest increase in suicides during the government’s most-recent reporting period. And the number of deaths by suicide in Texas exceeds all other states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
September is Suicide Prevention Month – a time to raise awareness, discuss this highly stigmatized topic and to share resources.
Nearly 50,000 Americans killed themselves in 2022, according to the CDC, and senior adults suffered the largest increase, with an 8-percent rise in suicides among those 65 and older. In 2022, there were 10,433 suicide deaths of people in that age group compared to 9,652 the previous year.
Comparatively, suicide declined 8.4 percent among the youngest Americans the CDC tracks – ages 10 to 24 – falling from 7,126 to 6,529.
Older adults have been especially in need of mental health assistance after the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 45 percent of adults 50 and older suffered from anxiety, 34 percent lost interest in activities, and 31 percent suffered depression or homelessness, AARP reported from a study of 2,000 older adults conducted Feb. 24 through March 1, 2022.
Overall, the CDC tracked 49,449 suicides among Americans ages 10 and older in a report released Aug. 10, which identified a 2.6 percent increase from the 48,183 deaths in 2021. Suicides briefly declined in 2019 and 2020 after consistently rising since 2000, but began rising again in 2021, the CDC said.
The increase underscores a “devastating mental health crisis in America,” U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murphy said upon the release of the latest statistics, which are provisional.
“Mental health has become the defining public health and societal challenge of our time. Far too many people and their families are suffering and feeling alone,” Murphy said. “These numbers are a sobering reminder of how urgent it is that we further expand access to mental health care, address the root causes of mental health struggles, and recognize the importance of checking on and supporting one another.”
State-ranked data from the CDC shows that Texas in 2021 (the latest year available for that category) had the highest number of suicide deaths, 4,193, followed by California with 4,148. The state with the highest suicide death rate, or deaths per 100,000 total population, that year was Wyoming.
Recognizing the importance of mental health issues to older Texans, AARP Texas in 2023 fought for state legislation to expand Texas’ capacity for research on mental health and brain-related diseases.
State Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) filed House Bill 15 and House Joint Resolution 135 to establish the Mental Health and Brain Research Institute of Texas. The legislation, had it become law, would have invested $3 billion into the Institute over the next decade. Unfortunately, despite support from AARP and a coalition of mental health and advocacy groups, as well as approval by the Texas House of Representatives, the legislation failed to clear necessary support from the Texas Senate.
AARP Texas State-Federal Strategy Director Kathy Green said fueling AARP’s interest in the legislation was a recognition that a growing number of Texans will face untreated mental health conditions, which can sometimes trigger suicidal thoughts. She noted that Texas’ 65+ population will grow by 78 percent by 2036, according to state demographic data, and by 2025, there will be 490,000 Texans over 65 living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
“It is vital that leaders prepare the state for the growing need for research on the prevention and treatment of brain-related diseases,” Green said. “By funding research within Texas, leaders can ensure that Texans reap the benefits of new technologies and treatments. Increasing public funding can also attract private investors and the nation’s best research teams.”
· If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, call or text 988 immediately.
The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention and the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline suggest five steps to help safeguard people from the risk of suicide and support them when in crisis:
1. Ask: Asking and talking about suicide may in fact reduce rather than increase suicidal ideation.
2. Help keep them safe: Reducing a suicidal person’s access to lethal means is an important part of suicide prevention.
3. Be there: Increasing someone’s connectedness to others and limiting their isolation has shown to be a protective factor against suicide.
4. Help them connect: Individuals who called the 988 Lifeline were significantly more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful by the end of calls.
5. Follow up: After you’ve connected a person experiencing thoughts of suicide with the immediate support systems that they need, following-up with them to see how they’re doing can help increase their feelings of connectedness and support. There’s evidence that even a simple form of reaching out can potentially reduce that person’s risk of suicide.
This story is provided by AARP Texas. Visit the AARP Texas page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.
Friday, Dec 1, 2023 at 12:00 p.m. CT
Friday, Dec 1, 2023 at 1:00 p.m. CT
Friday, Dec 1, 2023 at 1:00 p.m. CT