Suicide in Older Adults and the Elderly: Know the Facts

We see a lot of news stories about the increasing number of adolescents committing suicide, but did you know rates are also on the rise for seniors and the elderly? According to WebMD1, older adults comprise 12% of the population, but make up 18% of suicides. This is an alarming statistic — and it’s something that rarely gets talked about. But if you have a friend or family member at risk of suicide, here’s a look at what you need to know:

Understand the symptoms of depression or suicide risk in older adults

Are you worried that your loved one is at risk for suicide? They may be at risk if they show any of these risk factors2:

  • No longer interested in favorite hobbies or activities
  • Stop spending time with family and friends
  • Frequently cry or get teary for no reason
  • Major changes with sleeping, eating or drinking
  • Say they feel useless or depressed
  • Discuss giving away their possessions or use the phrase, “When I’m not here.”

How to offer support to older adults

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline3 recommends you take these steps, if you think your friend or family member is at risk:

  • Start talking: Take a direct approach. Show your support. Listen carefully to their answers and acknowledge their emotional pain. By asking, “Are you thinking about suicide?” and “How can I help you?,” you’re showing that you understand something is amiss and you’re here to help.
  • Show you care: Visiting in-person is preferred, but if that’s not possible, make yourself available through phone or video calls. You can also ask your loved one if there’s anyone in their life who can help. Building a support network is key.
  • Safety first: You need to understand if your loved one is in immediate danger. Start by asking if they have access to firearms or prescription medicine they’ve considered abusing. If this is the case, you need to get help from a medical professional or service immediately. The more detailed a person’s suicide plan is, the higher their risk is.
  • Connection matters: Whether through a suicide prevention hotline, a mental health counselor or making sure family members check in on them, a strong support system is what your loved one can depend on during times unimaginable pain.
  • Stay in touch: These steps make a big difference, but it’s not over yet. You’ll need to commit to following up. Whether it’s a quick phone call, text or card, simply reaching and showing you care can make a big difference.

Take action

There are a lot of organizations that offer help. Here are a few:

  • Call 911 or take them to an emergency room if your loved one is in immediate danger. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or by dialling the new three-digit code 9884.
  • The Institute on Aging’s Friendship Line5 at 800-971-0016 is available 24/7. Created for people older than 60 and for adults living with disabilities, it serves as a non-emergency emotional support hotline.
  • For the Crisis Text Line6, text HOME to 741741 to be connected to a crisis counselor anytime. This is an ideal option for someone who prefers texting, instead of a phone conversation. A live, trained crisis counselor will respond immediately to the text and offer assistance.

We know it can feel daunting to try to help someone who has expressed interest in suicide, or you suspect may be suicidal. But you don’t have to be a psychiatrist or mental health professional to help. You can be yourself. You can be there. You can listen. You can make sure your friend gets the support they need.


  1. “What You Need to Know About Suicide Rates in Older Adults,” WebMD, last accessed July 7, 2022,
  2. “What You Need to Know About Suicide Rates in Older Adults”
  3. “How and Why the Five Steps Can Help,” The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, last accessed July 7, 2022,
  4. “National Suicide Prevention Lifeline,” the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, last accessed July 7, 2022,
  5. “Friendship Line,” Institute on Aging, last accessed July 7, 2022,
  6. “In a Crisis?,” Crisis Text Line, last accessed July 7, 2022,