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Posted: August 16, 2004

Practical Caregiving

Spotting Suicidal Signs in Ourselves and Our Elderly

?Our friend died on his own battlefield. He was killed in action fighting a civil war. He fought against adversaries that were as real to him as his casket is real to us. They were powerful adversaries. They took toll of his energies and endurance. They exhausted the last vestiges of his courage and his strength. At last these adversaries overwhelmed him.?

When Someone Takes His Own Life

by Norman Vincent Peale

Excerpted from The Healing of Sorrow

(1966, Pawling, NY, Inspirational Book Service)



This column is about those powerful adversaries that steal a person's energy and endurance. I am sure you can recognize this circumstance, but I don't want these adversaries to overwhelm and defeat you or your loved one. You are much too important to let that happen. Your loved one is too important for that to happen.

I am talking about suicide. This insidious ?adversary? may be considered by you or your elderly loved one because of what may be thought of as an intolerable situation. It may seem like there's no way out ? but there IS help! That's my message today.

If balancing caregiving duties and the rest of life's demands have overwhelmed you and led you to consider suicide, you are not crazy. If your aging and perhaps frail mother or father or spouse has considered suicide, they are not crazy. Most of the time, suicidal thoughts seep into our minds because we are depressed. The medical field has learned a lot about the human mind, and they have developed some excellent medications to help with depression. Ask your doctor about them and get the medicine you or your loved one need. Medication won't change your day-to-day situation, but that's what we need to consider next. Help is needed there also.

Too many elderly feel depression is a normal state. Well, it isn't. Depression is a disease. It may result as easily from an injury or even a stroke as anything else. Stress, for caregivers, is also a big cause. In fact, nearly 60% of all caregivers have reported that they are being treated for depression. That's a lot of us already. But that's the key: whether an aging American or a family caregiver ? this condition can be successfully treated by professionals. If untreated, it may lead to suicide.

As a caregiver, you must find someone to give you a break so you can do something you enjoy. It's called respite care. You need it. Somehow you need to find a way to live your own life while taking care of your loved one. Find an interest. I learned how to do a lot of creative things on the computer while I was taking care of Mom and Dad. Find something you can enjoy. Your loved one needs you very badly, and if you take a break, you will do a better job of taking care of them. You'll also be less likely to become depressed or, worse, consider suicide.

And what about our elderly? Did you know that the highest rate of suicide is among our elderly? It's not teens or young adults, as you might think. We need to remember this in order to look for the signs that alert us to take action. See our July cover story in The Caregiver's Home Companion ( Caregiver Alert: Watch and Listen for the Warning Signs Of Suicide Among Our Elderly ).

Think now about what you can do to improve your loved one's outlook. Can you take them on rides? What about going out to eat? Can you read to them? What other ways can you find to make their life happier?

If you determine that your loved one is considering suicide, you must find out exactly how prepared they are to follow through. Don't be afraid to talk about it. Find out if your loved one is suicidal, how they plan to commit suicide, whether they have what they need to do it, and whether they have a time set when they plan to commit suicide.

Call for help. If you don't have the answers to these questions and feel there is a real problem, don't wait until you have all the pieces put together. Call now. Don't wait. Call toll free 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433). This is the National Hopeline Network for Suicide Prevention. When you call them, you will automatically be transferred to the crisis line in your area.

Don't try to handle things yourself. Get professional or experienced help from someone who understands suicide. I called them when I received an email from a caregiver who was suicidal, and they were tremendously helpful to me and the caregiver.

Some of the common signs of suicide are listed below, but a suicidal person does not need to exhibit all of them to be at risk. Look for even one or two of these:

Isolation and loneliness

  Losses, of friends and family who die, or financial losses

  Overwhelming pain

  Verbalizing that they are going to commit suicide

  Loss of interest in things they usually enjoy

  Not interacting with others

  Not taking care of themselves

  No longer taking necessary medication

  Feeling things are hopeless or that they are worthless

  Stockpiling medications or other things that could be used for suicide

  Suddenly putting their affairs in order, changing wills, giving things away

  Saying goodbye to those close to them, or canceling appointments

  Loss of their normal energy

Remember that anything else that you feel is unusual for them that might be a sign of depression. If you have a hunch something is wrong, get help right away.

In addition to our detailed article in the July issue of The Caregiver's Home Companion, you can also find more information at Kristin Brooks Hope Center and Suicide and Suicide Prevention.

© 2004 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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Please send me your questions, comments and issues regarding the practical side of caregiving at ASKJEAN@caregivershome.com, and remember to take advantage of our professionals and experts in the Ask an Expert section of our website. You'll find it in the left column on our homepage.

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