Depression, mental illness, and suicidality are common throughout the population and older people are more likely to experience contributing factors such as physical illness or personal loss.

Unfortunately, due to earlier held beliefs and long lasting stigmas, many people over 65 still feel there is a stigma attached to depression and anxiety, viewing them as weaknesses or character flaws rather than a genuine health condition.

Older people are also more hesitant to share their experiences of anxiety and depression with others, often ignoring symptoms over long periods of time and only seeking professional help when things reach a crisis point.

What The Data Tells Us

Suicide among older adults is a serious public health problem with over 5,000 older Americans dying by suicide annually. In 1999, the United States Surgeon General issued a National Call to Action to prevent suicide. Adults aged 65 and older are identified in this document as a priority for prevention.

National data from 2003 show that Oregon had the fourth highest suicide rate among older adults in the US. Both nationally and in Oregon, suicide rates are highest among older adults compared with any other age group. Currently about one in five suicides in Oregon occur among older adults.

While Oregon has launched efforts to reduce suicides among youth, from 1999-2003 the suicide rates among adults aged 65 and older were three times higher than rates for those aged 10-24. Suicide rates are particularly high among older men, with men ages 85 and older having the highest rate of any group in the country. 

Suicide attempts by older adults are much more likely to result in death than among younger persons. Reasons include:

  • Older adults plan more carefully and use more deadly methods.
  • Older adults are less likely to be discovered and rescued.
  • The physical frailty of older adults means they are less likely to recover from an attempt.

Suicide and Mental Health

Ultimately, mental health is about being cognitively, emotionally and socially healthy – the way we think, feel and develop relationships – and not merely the absence of a mental health condition.

Suicidal behaviour indicates deep unhappiness, not necessarily a mental health issue. Many people living with mental health issues aren’t suicidal, and not all people who take their own lives have a mental health issue.

Factors contributing to suicide risk are extremely complex and can include mental illness as well as a host of other factors including substance misuse or financial instability. New data from the CDC indicates that more than half of people who died by suicide in 2016 had no known mental health disorder at the time of death, however, it also states, “it is possible that mental health conditions or other circumstances could have been present and not diagnosed, known, or reported.”

Of the total suicide deaths in 2016, 10.3% of individuals had a diagnosed serious mental illness, according to a 27-state sample analysis conducted by the CDC. Extrapolated to the entire United States, this indicates that approximately 4,649 individuals with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder died by suicide in 2016.




Senior Loneliness Line


Suicide Prevention Resource Center, Older Adults


Psychology Today Search for Therapists in Oregon


Oregon Senior Centers


Aging and Disability Resource Connection of Oregon