Winter 2022 Newsletter
By S. Mark Foster, DNP, APRN, FNP-BC and Jessica Erin Camp, DNP, APRN, AGCNS-BC, NE-BC, CDP
College of Nursing & Health Professions
Arkansas State University
Suicide is a significant issue in the aging population. Rates of suicide are acutely high among men ages 85 and older, who have the highest rate of any group in the country (CDC, 2014). In addition, older persons’ suicide attempts are much more likely to result in death when compared to younger people (SPRC, 2020). Some significant reasons include careful planning, lethal methods chosen, reduced likelihood of being rescued, and frailty which decreases recovery likelihood (SPRC, 2020). Therefore, as healthcare providers we need to be aware of this risk and take action to help our patients.
Arkansas’s suicide death rate increased by an alarming 41% between 2000 and 2018, according to a new analysis of vital statistics data. The increase is especially concerning because the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is further exacerbating risk factors for suicide. Not surprisingly, given concerns about exposure to COVID-19 in emergency departments, a decline in ED visits for psychiatric complaints was reported, particularly during the early phase of the pandemic (Yard et al. 2021). Survey data also point to higher levels of suicidal ideation and attempts among adults, particularly those experiencing more COVID-19-related adversities such as social distancing policies, distress, and fear of physical harm (Ammerman, et al. 2021). Additional risk factors that may be impactful include: economic downturn, barriers to accessing healthcare, access to suicidal ideation and inappropriate media reporting.
Providers need to be mindful of additional factors that may impact the care of this population, such as care delivery model changes, legislation, and an uptick in the media attention surrounding mental health. Increased legislative efforts and access to healthcare through telemedicine efforts may prove to have a positive impact on suicide rates in Arkansas. During the ongoing pandemic, mental health care faces significant challenges related to staff shortages and decreased resources. However, telemedicine is one of the best tools to tackle these challenges and simultaneously address the expected increase in demand for mental health (Wasserman et al, 2020).
Through legislative efforts Arkansas has established its own suicide hotline that is operated by the Arkansas Department of Health. Websites such as The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Arkansas Suicide Prevention, Arkansas Suicide Prevention Network, or the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention may also serve as additional resources for patients and healthcare professionals alike. Additionally, the integration of more suicide prevention education within academia at all levels can raise awareness of this issue.
Awareness is essential, and providers are thus well-positioned to identify high-risk patients and initiate interventions to mitigate suicide-related morbidity and mortality (Rutz, 2001). Providers should talk with their older adult patients about prevention efforts, risk factors for suicide, and protective factors to prevent patients from suicide (SPRC, 2020). Providers should be aware of common risk factors, such as depression and other mental health problems, substance use problems including prescriptions, illness, disability, pain, and social isolation, particularly since the onset of the pandemic (SPRC, 2020) (USDHHS, 2016). Providers should also know what protective factors are, such as those that seek care for their mental and physical health problems, those with social connections, and having coping and adaptation skills (SPRC, 2020).
Ammerman, B. A., Burke, T. A., Jacobucci, R., & McClure, K. (2021). Preliminary investigation of the association between COVID-19 and suicidal thoughts and behaviors in the U.S. Journal of psychiatric research, 134, 32–38. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychires.2020.12.037
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Fatal injury reports, national and regional, 1999–2014. Retrieved from http://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/mortrate10_us.html
Rutz W. Preventing suicide and premature death by education and treatment. J Affect Disord. 2001 Jan;62(1-2):123-9. doi: 10.1016/s0165-0327(00)00356-6. PMID: 11172879.
Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC). (2020). Older adults. Retrieved from https://www.sprc.org/populations/older-adults
United States Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS). (2016). Facing addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s report on alcohol, drugs, and health.
Wasserman, D., Iosue, M., Wuestefeld, A., & Carli, V. (2020). Adaptation of evidence-based suicide prevention strategies during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. World psychiatry : official journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), 19(3), 294–306. https://doi.org/10.1002/wps.20801
Yard, E., Radhakrishnan, L., Ballesteros, M. F., Sheppard, M., Gates, A., Stein, Z., Hartnett, K., Kite-Powell, A., Rodgers, L., Adjemian, J., Ehlman, D. C., Holland, K., Idaikkadar, N., Ivey-Stephenson, A., Martinez, P., Law, R., & Stone, D. M. (2021). Emergency Department Visits for Suspected Suicide Attempts Among Persons Aged 12-25 Years Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic – United States, January 2019-May 2021. MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report, 70(24), 888–894. https://doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm7024e1