Seniors, Mental Health and Firearms: A safety plan.

As of July 16, 2022, the suicide prevention and crisis hotline can be reached by dialing 988 in New Jersey (and nationwide.) There is also a chat feature. The 1-800-273-8255 hotline will continue in effect.   You can find additional details online at Department of Human Services | 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline (nj.gov).

Sadly, suicide affects people of all ages. It is a leading cause of death among white males over the age of 65.  Approximately 15 individuals pass away from this daily. The use of firearms is a leading contributing factor.  See James H. Price, Jagdish Khubchandani, Firearm Suicides in the Elderly:  A Narrative Review and Call to Action, Journal of Community Health 46:1050-1058 (February 5, 2021).  The full study is available online at Firearm Suicides in the Elderly: A Narrative Review and Call for Action | SpringerLink. Letters Against Isolation | Write letters to Self-isolating seniors.

This is not a political statement. Many seniors have firearms for protection and sport. When not in use, guns should be locked away, preferably in a gun case. You may want to reconsider keeping a firearm in the home of a senior with a serious vision impairment (i.e., blindness or macular degeneration), a condition which will impair coordination (i.e., multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, cerebral palsy, stroke with paralysis, traumatic brain injury, and brain tumors) or a diagnosis or signs of dementia, confusion and/or cognitive impairment (i.e., Alzheimers and/or vascular dementia). https://www.medicalalertadvice.com/articles/gun-ownership-for-seniors/.

What are the societal factors driving these grim statistics? The elderly are confronted with physical and mental illness, isolation, loss of independence in the home, family and friendships, and must navigate life without any sense of meaning or productivity usually provided by gainful employment. They must face their struggles with limited income, limited financial resources and limited social support.  They are often invisible in our media.  Unlike younger adults, older individuals facing overwhelming challenges may be less likely to hang in there, until the situation improves for them. 

What You Can Do To Help.

These problems are a wake-up call.  What can we do to better the situation?   A good place to start is with little things. If you are so inclined, you could make a donation to non-profits that fight hunger, such as Feeding America and Meals on Wheels. Some churches have casserole programs, where you can prepare an extra meal, freeze in a foil container, and donate it to your local church or soup kitchen. Fostering a sense of connection is another way to help. It doesn’t take much to make a telephone or Facetime call, send a short note or card, share a meal, or to express your thanks to a loved one who helped shape you into who you are today. If your parents and grandparents are no longer with us, I am sorry for loss, but you are not off the hook! If you want to help and are inclined to write, consider volunteering with a cause like Letters Against Isolation, which fights senior loneliness with letters to bring joy. For more information, visit https://www.lettersagainstisolation.com/.

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