Suicide is a preventable tragedy but remains a leading cause of death in the United States. Adults aged 55 and older represent a large percentage of Americans who lose their lives to suicide annually. The National Center for Health Statistics has published a report documenting suicide rates among older adults over the course of two decades, from 2001 to 2021.
The National Vital Statistics System found these significant data points among adults over age 55 for the year 2021:
- Men aged 85 and over died by suicide at a higher rate than any other group studied.
- Women aged 55 to 64 had the highest rate of suicide among women studied.
- Men aged 55 to 64 and women aged 65 to 74 showed the biggest increase in suicide rates over the 20 years studied.
- Men had significantly higher suicide rates than women across all age groups.
Factors Affecting Suicide Rates Among Older Adults
The most significant factors that contribute to suicide rates among older adults relate to a decreased quality of life, according to the researchers. These include:
- Decline in physical or cognitive abilities
- Loss, bereavement, loneliness, or lack of community connection
- Poor mental health
A Closer Look at Suicide Rates Among Older Men
Among older men, the findings demonstrated that suicide rates increased with age. In 2021, there were 26.6 suicide deaths per 100,000 men aged 55 to 64 and 26.1 deaths among men aged 65 to 74. During the same timeframe, however, 38.2 per 100,000 men aged 75 to 84 and 55.7 men 85 and older died from suicide.
In addition, older men demonstrate higher rates of suicide than women of comparable age. Men 55 to 64 and 65 to 74 were three to five times more likely to die by suicide than women in the same age groups. This contrast becomes more pronounced among even older men, with suicide rates among men 85 years old and above almost 17 times that of women that age.
At the same time, suicide rates rose over time for older men. Among one age group of males in particular, this increase proved substantial. From 2001 to 2021, suicide deaths among men aged 55 to 64 jumped by 25 percent.
Suicide Rates Among Older Women
According to the study, suicide rates have decreased among older women as they age. For example, the suicide rate of 7.8 among women aged 55 to 64 decreased to 3.3 among women aged 85 and older.
Methods of Suicide
Firearm-related suicides were the most reported mechanism of suicide, according to the data. Firearms are the leading method of suicide among men 55 and older. From 2001 to 2021, the use of firearms in deaths by suicide increased as men aged. The report found the following increasing rates for firearm deaths:
- 19.2 deaths among men aged 65-74
- 32.1 deaths among men aged 75-84
- 45.9 deaths among men aged 85 and older
Women suffered more from poisoning or drug overdose-related suicide deaths. However, the number of poisoning or overdose-related deaths generally decreased with age.
Crisis Prevention Resources for Older Adults
In the spring of 2023, the U.S. surgeon general declared loneliness an epidemic for Americans. Some studies have suggested a link between social isolation and a higher risk of developing dementia. It remains critical to continue to commit to self-care as you age. Learn more about how to prevent loneliness.
Despite the report covering the years 2001 to 2021, suicide rates were the highest they’ve been in decades in 2022. If you struggle with suicidal ideations, reach out to someone. Talking about your feelings and experiences with a loved one or a professional can offer you a moment of pause and remind you that you matter to others.
Here are some resources for seniors and their families and caregivers struggling with suicidal thoughts:
- The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline launched in 2022 to offer confidential support 24 hours a day for those suffering from mental health distress. Call or text 988 to speak to someone if you are having a crisis. Note that the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK, will automatically transfer you to the trained 988 crisis counselors.
- The Crisis Text Line is a global resource available 24-7 to people in the U.S. and several other countries. Text “DESERVE” to 741-741.
- For military veterans, the Veterans Crisis Line offers resources, including an online chat that can support you and your loved ones. You do not have to receive veterans benefits to access a counselor.