NPR – NPR’s Ayesha Rascoe speaks with Kimberly Van Orden of the University of Rochester (NY) Medical Center about persistently high suicide rates among elderly men.
AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:
Preliminary data just came out showing that in 2022, the number of suicides in the U.S. rose by 3%. We’re now going to look at one piece of that report, suicide rates among men 75 and older. They continue to be two or three times higher than many other demographic groups.
And before we get any further, if you or someone you know may be considering suicide or is in crisis, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. We’re joined by Kim Van Orden, co-director of the Center for the Study and Prevention of Suicide at the University of Rochester. Thank you for coming on.
KIM VAN ORDEN: Delighted to be here, Ayesha.
RASCOE: I understand that we’re not saying anything new here, but this is something I didn’t know. Elderly men, especially white men, have had higher rates of suicide than other groups for some time now. Why is that?
VAN ORDEN: Well, first, Ayesha, thanks for asking this question because suicide in later life is a significant public health problem around the world, not just the U.S. And so you combine that with population aging. The magnitude of that problem is increasing. So as to why older adults have higher rates, that’s actually a more complicated question because suicide isn’t caused by any one factor.
My colleagues and I like to describe these as the five Ds of late-life suicide. So that’s depression, disconnection, disability, disease and access to deadly means. So depression most people know about. It’s present in most older people who die by suicide.
Disability refers to any form of functional impairment like trouble walking or sensory loss. Disease means physical illness. And then disconnection – that’s social disconnection. And then access to deadly means is a key one. In the U.S., that means firearms.
RASCOE: So are older men more likely to be depressed than younger men?
VAN ORDEN: Actually, no. In fact, later life is characterized by less depression, greater well-being, more positive emotions and better capacity to manage emotions …