Robin Williams’ suicide should serve as a wake up call for many of us who did not understand how depression affects older adults. It is estimated that 6.5 million of the 35 million adults over the age of 65 suffer from depression. This seems to be, in many instances, attributed to loss of independence, acknowledgment of one’s mortality, disability and loss.  In the case of Robin Williams, it is speculated that his Parkinson’s diagnosis may had been a factor in his decision to commit suicide.

The Center for Elderly Suicide Prevention reported that the rate of suicide for the elderly for 2007 was 14.3 per 100,000. White men over the age of 85, were at the greatest risk of all age-gender-race groups. In 2007, the suicide rate for these men was 45, 42 per 100,000.

According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide rates among older adults is believed to under-reported. In fact, men in their 50’s and early 60’s (Robin Williams’ age bracket), the rates have increased. It is interesting to note that though young people make more suicide attempts, older adults are more successful in carrying it out. This is a result of the lack of the physical acumen they once possessed.

Depression seems to be the most causal symptom of suicide among this group.  Also, the fear of appearing helpless, not feeling valuable or wanted also leads older adults to comtemplate suicide. It is so important that family members and friends observe signs of depression and social isolation. Here are some warning signs from the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT):

  • Loss of interest in things or activities that are usually found enjoyable
  • Cutting back social interaction, self-care, and grooming
  • Breaking medical regimens (such as going off diets, prescriptions)
  • Experiencing or expecting a significant personal loss (spouse or other)
  • Putting affairs in order, giving things away, or making changes in wills
  • Stock-piling medication or obtaining other lethal means
  • Other clues are a preoccupation with death or a lack of concern about personal safety
  • Remarks such as “This is the last time that you’ll see me” or “I won’t be needing anymore appointments” should raise concern.
    The most significant indicator is an expression of suicidal intent.

As I always mention, please report all incidents to the proper authorities. You can also find information on the National Center on Elder Abuse’s website at Please feel free to leave your questions or comments.

American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
Center for Disease and Control
Center for Elderly Suicide Prevention


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