FOREST CITY — On average, 123 Americans die to suicide every day, but it doesn’t have to be.

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. There are preventative measures to curb suicide, especially among seniors. One’s golden years are supposed to be a time of grandkids, fewer responsibilities, and self-fulfillment. But this period is also one of significant life transitions; retirement, changes in finances, loss of independence, and declining health — all of which can lead to depression.

Identifying those at risk of suicide is often complicated. Mental health professionals and caregivers face many obstacles in reaching older adults. Seniors are less likely to seek treatment for mental health challenges, and they tend not to display the more common warning signs. The barrier most frequently voiced is that “they do not need help.” Other common hurdles include practical deterrents such as cost, transportation, and not knowing where to turn for help. Older patients are also less likely to trust mental health providers and less likely to open up about personal problems.

So How Can We Help?

Awareness of the risk factors is the first step. Lack of socialization, lingering illnesses, and spouse loss are substantial factors to the risk of developing depression, increasing the risk of suicide in older Americans.

Immediate Actions

Take action. Seniors can be very good at hiding the common warning signs of suicidal thinking, and they often are deliberate, determined, and careful planners. If you believe an older family member or friend may harbor suicidal thoughts, taking action to help may save their life. Talk to them, and listen without judgment.

Warning signs may include:

• preexisting mental disorders;

• substance abuse, drugs, and alcohol;

• impulsive and aggressive tendencies;

• major physical illness;

• job or financial loss;

• loss of relationship(s);

• absence of social support and sense of isolation; and

• access to lethal means.

If you recognize several of these symptoms in your loved one, seek a family therapist or another professional experienced with handling issues of the elderly. Studies show that therapy combined with antidepressant medication is very successful in more than 80% of geriatric patients.

Engage and Make a Difference

Avert tragedy through prevention. We know that seniors with a healthy lifestyle most often have a healthy mindset. Get involve and show genuine interest. Offer help with daily needs, and find opportunities for activity.

Developing a healthy environment include:

• Diet. Eating right helps maintain positive mental health. Healthy foods include vegetables, whole grains, and fruits.

• Sleep. The older we become, the more we tend to become light sleepers. Longer durations of sleep improves concentration and provides daily recharging to the body’s immune system.

• Activity. We know that exercise improves mood and emotional well-being, and it also helps to maintain overall physical health.

• Socialization. Good relationships are essential for good mental health and are crucial to creating happiness and well-being by adding purpose to life.

• Pet. Pets help reduce blood pressure and depression, promote living in the moment, increase mobility, and ease anxiety.

While these tips will tremendously help most people lead a fulfilling life, it is essential to note that if professional help becomes necessary, there are resources available.

To learn more about suicide prevention programs at St. Luke’s Hospital, please call, 828-894-9890, or email Paula Hipp at, and visit our website at


National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Free 24/7 support for anyone in suicidal crisis

Call from anywhere in the United States

Medicare Assistance

Medicare Helps Cover Mental Health Services. Health insurance costs should not be a barrier to treatment. Visit the Medicare QuickCheck® on to learn more about all of the mental health services available to you through Medicare.

Medicare Part A. Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) helps cover mental health care if you’re a hospital inpatient. Part A covers your room, meals, nursing care, and other related services and supplies.

Medicare Part B. Medicare Part B (medical insurance) helps cover mental health services offered by psychiatrists, clinical psychologists or clinical social workers, and lab tests ordered by your doctor. Part B may also pay for partial hospitalization services if you need intensive, coordinated outpatient care.

Medicare Part D. Medicare Part D (prescription drug coverage) helps cover drugs you may need to treat a mental health condition.