Suicide is an issue impacting Americans of all ages. While children and young adults are often the focus of suicide-prevention initiatives, older adults are also choosing to end their own lives at alarming rates. According to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention, from 1999 to 2010, suicide among adults ages 35 – 64 increased by 28 percent. In 2013, more than 7,000 people age 65 or older died by suicide.
Of particular concern is the dramatic increase in the suicide rate among men. Middle-aged men represent four out of every five suicides in the United States, and older men ages 75 and up have the highest rates of suicide per 100,000.
So, why are men so prone to suicide? Researchers have identified several factors. Mental illnesses, particularly depression, frequently go unreported. Substance use issues, including misuse of prescription medications, are becoming more common. Physical illness, pain, social isolation and family loss are other potential triggers. And, to complicate matters, older men often deal with one or more of these factors simultaneously.
The good news is that six Quality Innovation Network-Quality Improvement Organizations (QIN-QIOs) from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ QIO Program currently are helping physician practices increase their rates of depression and alcohol use disorder screenings. Also, Medicare covers mental health services for older men who are struggling with mental illness or contemplating suicide.
"Middle-aged men represent four out of every five suicides in the United States, and older men ages 75 and up have the highest rates of suicide per 100,000."
Medicare Part A covers inpatient mental health care, including room, meals and nursing care, whether in a general or psychiatric hospital. Part B covers outpatient care, such as visits with a clinical psychologist or social worker. In fact, Part B covers one depression screening per year, as well as individual or group psychotherapy, which can be helpful for older men who have suffered the loss of a family member or spouse. Finally, Part D plans, with a few exceptions, cover prescription drugs needed to treat mental health conditions.
“Suicide is preventable,” says Richard McKeon, Chief of the Suicide Prevention Branch at Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Center for Mental Health Services. “Increasing social connectedness, receiving care for behavioral health and physical health problems, reducing access to lethal means, helping people find a sense of purpose and meaning in life — all of these can be effective in preventing suicide.”
SAMHSA’s suicide prevention app is a free resource for providers to help them integrate suicide prevention strategies into their practices and address suicide risk among patients.