How to Support an Older Person With Suicidal Thoughts

If you have an older person in your life who may be contemplating suicide, you are not alone. The grim reality is that the dsuicide rate is remarkably high among people in what should be their Golden Years. 

Psychology Today reports that the suicide rate among people who’ve reached the age of 85 is four times higher than the overall suicide rate in the United States. There is also strong evidence that the suicide rate among older people actually is underreported. The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy believes that suicides among the elderly is underreported by 40 percent of even more. 

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline enumerates five strategies that you can employ if know an older person who is contemplating suicide:

  • Ask
  • Be there
  • Keep them safe
  • Help them connect
  • Follow up

We discuss each of these strategies in this article.


The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, as well as other professionals in the field of suicide prevention, indicate that you should not be afraid to ask an older person you feel is considering suicide direct questions. With that said, you should speak with them in a kind, nonthreatening, and nonjudgmental manner. 

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline suggests questions life:

  • Are you thinking about suicide?
  • How can I help you?

Be There

If at all possible, you can best support an older person who may be contemplating suicide by being there with them in person. By being present in person, you likely accomplish the following:

  • Ease the person’s feeling of isolation
  • Ease the individual’s feeling of loneliness
  • Provide a true sense of connectedness

If being present in person is not possible, take advantage of some of the technology that became very useful and popular during the COVID-19 pandemic. Connect with them via one or another of the various video apps that are available today. 

Keep Them Safe

A crucial element of supporting a person who may be contemplating suicide is to keep them safe. In this regard, you need to understand the difference between contemplating suicide and harboring suicidal ideations:

Contemplating suicide or thoughts of suicide is a state in which a person is thinking about self-harm but has not formulated a plan to carry forth with an attempt at suicide. Additionally, an individual thinking about suicide does not have a ready means of ending his or her life.

Suicidal ideations, on the other hand, represent a situation in which an individual not only is thinking about suicide but has developed a specific plan to end his or her life. Moreover, a person with suicidal ideations has the means available to commit suicide (access to a weapon, for example). 

If a person has suicidal ideations, it is crucial that he or she be provided immediate assistance. An individual in this state can be said to be in immediate danger. The newly created 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline can be a valuable resource in this regard. You simply dial 988 on your phone in the same manner you connect with emergency services by dialing 911. 

Help Them Connect

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has developed guidance to be followed when an older individual is at risk of suicide. According to the agency:

If a senior in your life is thinking about suicide, it’s important for them to establish support systems they can rely on now and in future moments of crisis. This includes suicide prevention hotlines such as the Lifeline, as well as resources available in their local community. Find out if the at-risk person is currently seeing a mental health counselor.

The local mental health center in your community can make recommendations in regard to an appropriate counselor or therapist to provide assistance and support to an older individual who has been contemplating suicide.

Follow Up

Research demonstrates that following up with an older individual who has had thoughts of suicide works to reduce the future risk of suicide. Once you have had an initial conversation with an older person who was at risk for suicide, follow up to see how that individual is doing. A follow up need not be anything complicated and can be a phone call or text. 

During the follow up, ask the person if they are in need of anything else at the moment. Let them know that you are here for them and that they can reach out to you at any time. 

As a final point, do not forget the value of 988. The suicide prevention hotline went into operation in July 2022. The hotline can provide you immediate access to different resources in or near your own community. The 988 suicide prevention hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, including all major holidays.