How to Prevent Elder Suicide by Creating Healthy Self-Esteem
Trigger warning: This post involves frank discussion of suicide thoughts in seniors.
When self-esteem is poor, the risk of suicide is higher,1 and as a senior citizen living alone, I recognize that I am particularly at risk right now to elder suicide. The COVID-19 pandemic is causing older people and those with health issues to isolate, including me. Isolation can increase depression, which when untreated, can lead to thoughts of suicide.
An article in Scientific American states:
"Older adults are sensitive to loneliness and isolation, as they depend on strong social support, especially during difficult times."2
This fact really hit home because I entered my own lockdown only one month after I retired. My days no longer seemed free; they seemed empty and without purpose.
The work I've done during my journey to build strong self-esteem helped me fight suicidal thoughts during quarantine. I want to share my experience and some tips for seniors living alone and those who love them.
Suicide Thoughts in a Lonely Senior
I was petrified that something silly would cause me to become hospitalized and my high-tech diabetes management equipment wouldn't be understood well enough to help me stay in control and heal. I clearly saw a picture of me tripping and falling, ending up in the emergency room and never returning home again after becoming infected. I became convinced that if I went outside I would die.
I tried continuing my daily gym visits but that got scary as more and more people did the same and people who weren't considered high-risk and weren't always considerate of those of us who were. I canceled my upcoming vacations and there was nothing to look forward to.
I didn't want to die alone and scared; and, after possible exposure and anxiously checking my temperature almost hourly for a week, I thought for a short while about taking matters into my own hands as a way of regaining control. This was the first time I had ever entertained the thought that ending my life would be easier than facing what's ahead. I didn't know if or when the pandemic would end, and I didn't think I could go on indefinitely feeling as depressed as I was.
Lonely Seniors Can Fight Suicidal Thoughts and Prevent Elder Suicide
It's scary now just to write those words. I am grateful for my persistence in building my self-esteem over the last two years because the work I did helped me to do what was needed to get past that point of hopelessness and fear. Here's what helped me, in the great hope that it will help others who are, or have in their lives, seniors who live alone:
- Get professional help immediately. My work in building my self-esteem taught me the value of routines. I have special routines for depression days that I worked on with my therapist, and the first action on the list is to call my therapist for an appointment. Whenever I make the call, I feel better immediately because I know I'm taking care of myself and I know he will help me figure things out. Don't wait. If you need help finding someone, ask for that help.
- Reach out to others for contact. I went through all kinds of head trips because I was so lonely and frightened. I convinced myself that nobody wanted to talk to me because they weren't calling. But other people have their own routines, fears and concerns, and that doesn't mean that they don't love or want to help you. When I finally told my family and friends that I was having trouble, it helped. If you know someone living alone, please don't assume they are fine.
- Recognize that depression can mask as physical symptoms. An article on AARP's website says "But in older adults, depression may reveal itself in more physical symptoms."3 I found myself having trouble sleeping regular hours, and I hadn't replaced the gym time with another workout, so I lost a lot of physical capability and had difficulty with simple tasks. Be aware of any changes, physical or mental, that you notice in yourself or your solitary older loved ones.
- Give yourself permission to ask for and accept help. One thing from my journey to build healthy self-esteem that was helpful at this time was learning to live more authentically. I let go of the need to appear as if everything is fine when it's not. I still find myself clinging at times to the need to appear in control and successful, but I had to let my guard down and show others that I was in danger. Encourage your loved ones to share their troubles and give yourself permission to do the same. We are all human and need help sometimes.
If you recognize anything in my story that resonates, I encourage you to begin your own journey to build strong self-esteem. It helps in every area of life. Take care of yourself and please remember to check in with the people you know who live alone. They may seem okay because they don't reach out for help, but please make sure. Your call or text may be just what they need today to keep on fighting.
If you feel that you may hurt yourself or someone else, call 9-1-1 immediately.
For more information on suicide, see our suicide information, resources and support section. For additional mental health help, please see our mental health hotline numbers and referral information section.
- Chatard, A. et al, "Self-esteem and Suicide Rates in 55 Nations." European Journal of Personality, November 20, 2008.
- Panayi, A., "COVID-19 Is Likely to Lead to an Increase in Suicides." Scientific American, April 3, 2020.
- Colino, S., "Stress, Social Isolation From the Coronavirus May Raise Suicide Risk." AARP, April 15, 2020.
Kaley, J. (2020, September 9). How to Prevent Elder Suicide by Creating Healthy Self-Esteem, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, September 27 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/buildingselfesteem/2020/9/how-to-prevent-elder-suicide-by-creating-healthy-self-esteem