Suicide of Older Adults: A Sad Ending to an Untold Story

No Thumbnail Available
White, Catherine May
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Mount Saint Vincent University
Many older adults enjoy healthy aging while others face a range of losses (health, companions, resources, meaning in life) that can result in social isolation, loneliness, and fear that one will become a burden. The challenge of accepting a declining quality of life, lack of a sense of purpose, and increased dependence on others may become too great, contributing to the risk for suicide. While risk factors and protective factors are identified, each suicide is different. There is a lack of consensus on how suicidal ideation arises and little existing research to illuminate the lived experience of how older adults move from ideation-to-action. The purpose of this study was to create an opportunity for people over the age of 50 who have recently attempted suicide to share their personal experience. A better understanding of what leads older adults to attempt suicide may help to develop approaches to suicide prevention that better address their needs. Narrative Inquiry was chosen as the methodology for this study as it lends well to sharing stories of lived experience and accounts of specific events or actions, specifically ones with a turning point. Four participants engaged in two interviews. The first provided each person the opportunity to share their story, with minimal prompts provided. The second allowed them to review the preliminary findings and clarify as needed. Although the findings revealed alignment with the Interpersonal Theory of Suicide which posits that suicide is the result of simultaneous existence of thwarted belonging and perceived burdensomeness, accompanied by hopelessness, there was great diversity in the ways they did so. Some carried burden while others feared becoming a burden. Thwarted belonging was evident in the ways participants evaluated their role in the family. Some were socially excluded from family events, while others felt a general lack and having something to offer in the world. The Critical-Ecological Framework added an additional lens through which to view the findings. The intertwined ecological levels of the environment (microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem) added a depth of understanding that illuminated the challenges inherent with maintaining an exclusive focus on mental health issues as strictly an individual issue, as is often the case in mental health services. Participants wanted more than another prescription. They wanted to be included and valued, and to feel that they had something to offer. Mental health services could benefit from the knowledge that interventions such as social prescribing and occupational therapy could be a good fit for supporting people to supplement symptom management with finding meaningful activities in which to engage. Community responses to create welcoming, accessible and inclusive environments and opportunities for intergeneration participation could also be helpful. In conclusion, there are many pathways to suicidal ideation, requiring a multi- pronged approach when it comes to prevention. The biomedical approach is not enough to support older adults who are considering ending their lives. People need a sense of purpose. Battling ideologies such as agism and helping people to overcome barriers to inclusion and find activities that are meaningful are required.