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Don't brush it under the carpet.

We know that many older people struggle alone with their emotional wellbeing. 

If you are feeling anxious, sad, lonely, helpless, depressed, or you are grieving, help is out there. The first step to feeling better is to talk to someone, it could be a loved one, a friend, a health professional or a neighbour.

People want to help.

This hub is designed both for adults who need support, and for family, loved ones and professionals in contact with at-risk older people.

You are not alone if you are struggling.

Helplines, resources and contacts

Below you will find a variety of resources and ideas including phone helplines, text services, websites, apps and more. Please make a note of anything that could be useful to you, or share the information with somebody else. 

Some resources are focused on Sussex and the South East, but they will all direct you to other services if you are outside this area. 

Talk to someone

Tell a friend, family member, neighbour, health professional or someone you trust how you are feeling. 

We know it is difficult to talk about emotions and feelings, but there are lots of people who are ready to listen. 

Contact your GP practice

They will help you get support from the right services and will sometimes take appointments over the phone.

The Stay Alive app

This app from Grassroots Suicide Prevention can be downloaded onto your mobile, or you can use the desktop version. It is confidential and you can use it at any time of day or night.

Age UK provide a wide range of services for older people including telephone friendship and a befriending service. 


The Samaritans are a 24 hour confidential, listening service providing emotional support for anyone in crisis.

Helpline for older people

The Silver Line is the only free confidential helpline providing information, friendship and advice to older people, open 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

Mind offer lots of resources and information on mental health and looking after yourself. 

NHS England

The NHS have many resources available, including free and confidential therapy services.

If you prefer to talk to someone over text message, Shout offer confidential support 24/7.

Battle Scars help those who struggle with self-harm by running easy-to-access peer support groups, with a similar group for their families. Their worldwide, all-ages Facebook group offers around-the-clock peer support for anybody needing help. 

Expert advice and practical tips to help improve your mental health and wellbeing.

ewellbeing logo

A Sussex-based service for mental health support. 

Offer a range of self-harm and mental health focused activities 

A place to meet like-minded people and someone to share your worries with. Aims to reduce isolation and help men deal with mental health challenges.

Qwell offers free, safe and anonymous mental wellbeing support for adults across the UK. They offer online messaging support, peer to peer forums and a range of tools and content.

Risk factors

Many of us – one in five – suffer from suicidal thoughts. Research shows that these thoughts can be interrupted and suicide can be prevented.

Some older people experience interrelated risk factors such as loneliness, being homebound and isolated. Coupled with difficult experiences or changes in physical health, cognitive abilities or independence, it can seem that death is preferable to the pain and difficulty of continuing to live. Behind every death lies a tragic and unique story of insurmountable pain.

It is important to not over-simplify what could have driven someone to take their life. We should not speculate about their emotional state, and we should not try to look for what went wrong or who is to blame.

Suicide does not only impact people with mental health issues. Many deaths occur among older people who are free from anxiety or depression. Suicide is always unique and complex.

It is most likely a combination of individual, relationship, community and societal risk factors that can increase the possibility that an older adult will attempt suicide. You can find some examples below.

  • Hopelessness – struggling with their own mortality and experiencing anxiety about dying
  • Loss of identity – previously independent seniors may find themselves struggling to dress themselves, read or lead an active life
  • Loss of purpose – retirement can be really hard for people who may stop feeling needed
  • Chronic illness and pain – older people may be suffering with disease such as arthritis, heart problems, high blood pressure, and diabetes, which can bring on pain and mobility issues that compromise quality of life
  • Seniors may also experience loss of vision and other senses, such as hearing, making it harder to do the things they love
  • Financial troubles – older people living on a fixed income may struggle to pay their bills or keep food on the table
  • Stigma associated with help-seeking and mental illness, especially with older generations, and they may not want to connect the word ‘suicide’ with their feelings of not wanting to go on
  • Suicide death rates of older people are particularly liable to be underestimated and it can be challenging to determine whether an attempt was a deliberate act or just overdosing on drugs or an accident or a voluntary fall
  • Unsafe media reporting of suicide
  • Grief – an older adult will have faced loss multiple times, possibly including a spouse of many decades
  • Isolation – some older people may be housebound, living alone and have few social interactions
  • Loneliness – many may feel more isolated and lonelier by not being able to connect with their communities, through physical ailments, such as loss of mobility or hearing
  • History of suicide in the family
  • Lack of access to healthcare
  • Ageist attitudes that associate old age with physical and cognitive decline (considering older people to be frail and helpless individuals) inevitably influence the level of care or concern they may receive
  • Suicide cluster in the local community
  • Stress of acculturation
  • Community violence
  • Historical trauma

Warning signs in older people

Older people who are thinking about suicide may show one or more warning signs, through what they say or what they do. They may be very subtle and easy to miss.

You may see a change in behaviour or the presence of entirely new behaviours. This is of particular concern if the new or changed behaviour is related to a painful event, loss, or change.

Older people are less likely to use words like ‘depression’ or ‘suicide’ or even ‘mental health’ because of associated stigma. Keep an eye out for euphemistic language like ‘not wanting to be here’ or being a ‘burden’.

Here are some potential warning signs that an older person may be considering suicide:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety or fear
  • Loss of interest in people or activities
  • Frequent irritability
  • Feelings of humiliation and/or shame
  • Outbursts of agitation and/or anger
  • Unexplained crying
  • Self-loathing or self-hatred
  • Relief or sudden elation, extreme happiness
  • Being a burden or bothering others
  • There is no point in something
  • The world is better off without them
  • Saying they won’t be around for future events (like Christmas)
  • Feeling hopeless
  • No one cares
  • Having nobody or nothing to love, being ‘forgotten’
  • Having no reason to live
  • Feeling trapped
  • Hating their life
  • Feeling a failure
  • Unbearable pain
  • Wanting the pain or exhaustion to end
  • Things would be better when they are gone/dead
  • Problems will be over soon
  • Lack of interest in the future
  • Changing their will or making final arrangements
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Previous suicide attempts such as “accidental” over-doses
  • Neglecting self-care, medical regimens, and grooming.
  • Lack of concern for personal safety
  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
  • Saying good-bye to family and friends
  • Reluctance to participate in usual events
  • Preoccupation with death in art, poetry, social media, TV, etc.
  • Self-destructive behaviour
  • Concern from community leaders or healthcare professionals (e.g. church leaders, nurses)
  • Impulsive, reckless behaviour
  • Apathy about appearance or health
  • Increased or intense use of alcohol or drugs, or starting to use them recklessly
  • Looking for a way to end their lives, such as suspicious questioning about strong medications
  • Isolating from family and friends
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Writing letters and asking them not to be opened
  • Aggression and/or rage
  • Extreme fatigue

Older adult suicide myths

Some phrases and assumptions around suicide add social stigma and shame. This stigma can be even more damaging to people who may be going through difficult times with personal, emotional and social development. 

When a person at risk hears stereotypes, they can see it as confirmation that they are misunderstood, inadequate, alone or worthless. This makes them more likely to struggle in silence and can increase the chance that they will act on their suicidal thoughts. 

Here are some of the most harmful suicide myths debunked. Click each myth to see the real facts and explanations.

Training courses

There are a range of training courses that you may find helpful to give you the skills and confidence to have a life-saving conversation.

How to talk to an older person about suicide

You might also want to download the Talking Toolkit, developed by the NHS Sussex Partnership. 

Timing is key. This is an important conversation and needs to be treated with respect. 

You might want to start the conversation when they are down or upset, but this may be the time when people are most likely to close down. Instead, ask when they’re having a good day and probably feeling more talkative.

Do remember that the older person’s internal monologue might be telling them that they’re not good enough, don’t deserve help, or are a failure. Allow them to direct the conversation – don’t ambush them or make them feel targeted.

Talking in a place where someone feels rushed may be uncomfortable and affect what they say. Try these locations. 

1. At home or in a quiet and private place 

It’s easier to talk to an older person when they are comfortable and not worried about showing emotions. 

Take your time. Avoid trying to talk during a family mealtime, or late in the day when they are tired. Instead find a time when it’s just the two of you and you can talk as long as you need without having to rush off.

2. While doing something you enjoy together

Many people find it easier to talk while doing an activity.

Older people may feel less under pressure if they don’t have to maintain eye contact. It can also be helpful to focus on an activity as this gives you both space to pause, reflect and gather thoughts without awkward silences. Remember to choose an activity that they will find enjoyable and free of motor, mobility or vision restrictions as this could become frustrating. 

3. On a walk or in a quiet place

You could suggest going for a walk in a quiet or familiar place.

Some older people might not feel safe at home, but they may also feel anxiety in more public spaces. Nature can often help people to feel more relaxed, but it is important to check first. 

It’s important to show that you are genuinely concerned about an older person’s experience. 

Remember the four C’s and appear calm, confident, consistent and compassionate however you feel inside.

Talking to someone about how they are can be worrying, especially if you’re concerned that they’re having a hard time. You might not know what to say, or feel worried about how an older person will react.

Here are some suggestions on how to start the conversation:

  • How are you feeling?

  • What was the best and worst part of your day?

  • It seems like you’ve been struggling lately. Are you comfortable talking with me about what’s going on?

  • I’ve noticed you’ve had a couple of down days lately, can you let me know how you’re feeling or what you’re thinking about?

  • If you are having feelings that are hard deal to with or scared of, you can always talk to me, it would not upset me. I just want to listen.

It is important to be direct, clear and avoid euphemism. This might be difficult, so remember that it is important to know the answer. 

  1. Have you been thinking about suicide?
  2. Do you feel like you don’t want to be in this world anymore?
  3. Do you want to close your eyes and never wake up?
  4. Do you have any plans on hurting or killing yourself?

When they answer, listen with empathy and without judgement. Be careful not to look shocked or upset as they may then be less open in what they say. Be prepared to listen, even if it’s hard to hear, and try to stay calm.

What to say

Below are some ways to keep the conversation going and opportunities to offer hope, support and empathy. It can be hard to ask some of these questions, so remember it is always better to know the answer. 

What not to say

Click each phrase for more information, ideas and clarifications. 

Their feelings won’t go away because you want them to, they will suffer in silence.
This could make someone feel more isolated and ashamed of their feelings.
Just listen with empathy and without judgement.
Their distress and pain is real and may be a cause of a combination of things, including mental health issues. Dismissing them might make them feel they won’t be understood.
Many people who feel suicidal may feel they are failing; this could increase their feelings of inadequacy.
What is distressing may be a combination of many complex reasons, including mental health issues that have been building over time.
Suicidal ideation is painful, complex and unique to the individual.
Dismissing and belittling their feelings could make them feel more worthless and unimportant.
Grassroots Suicide Prevention logo
in partnership with
NHS Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

Did you know 1 in 5 people will have suicidal thoughts at some point in their lives?

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