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.
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.
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.
They will help you get support from the right services and will sometimes take appointments over the phone.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Fact: Suicidal thoughts and behaviour in care homes is often unrecognised and referred to as ‘giving up’.
An older person may tend to neglect eating or drinking and be unwilling to get out of bed or participate in day-to-day activities. It is a mistake to assume that this is a normal life stage; in fact, it’s likely that the person has become depressed as a result of life changes and losses. Talking with them about their feelings and worries and being helped to access treatment and support can both be very helpful.
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.
Developing the skills and confidence to talk about suicide openly and comfortably, using safe, respectful language.
Introductory: 1.5 hours
Full course: half day
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
It is important to be direct, clear and avoid euphemism. This might be difficult, so remember that it is important to know the answer.
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.
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.
Reassure them that they matter to you and that you’re here to listen and support them and that you don’t need to rush off.
Many people who feel suicidal will feel worthless and you patiently prioritising the conversation will mean a lot.
Click each phrase for more information, ideas and clarifications.
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