Most physicians do not routinely screen for – or assess – suicide risk in older patients, even if treating them for depression. While receiving medical care, 73 percent of elderly patients who die by suicide saw their physicians within the past month, and of these 50 percent saw them within the past week. Some die on the same or next day after the visit, and not infrequently by overdosing on the medication prescribed.
These last contact visits are windows of opportunity for intervention, and national organizations have repeatedly recommended physicians secure training in detecting and assessing suicide risk. To date, most have not, even though research shows that such training lowers suicide rates, sometimes dramatically.
To keep your depressed loved one safe, ask frankly about suicide and, if desire and intent to be dead are present, share this finding with your loved one’s doctor. Call, write, or, better yet, go with your loved one to the doctor and tell him or her in person what you’ve learned.
Not sure how the doctor will respond? Call Elder Services for advice at (509) 458-7450.
Paul Quinnett, Ph.D.