Completion rate of attempts higher among seniors - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Completion rate of attempts higher among seniors

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Posted: Saturday, June 14, 2008 6:09 pm | Updated: 8:57 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

TUCSON - The day Stanley Garvin celebrates his mother's birthday, he also mourns the loss of his father to suicide. It was six years ago in March that his father, who was 74, shot himself in the temple while his wife of 45 years was taking a shower in Garvin's childhood home in Oklahoma.

There was no note to help the family understand why. The elder Garvin, who had never been in a hospital in his life until a recent stomach surgery, wasn't recovering as quickly as he'd wanted. He had been depressed. It was a cold, dreary season.

"What we thought was going to be a happy day turned out to be a sad day," said his son, a 48-year-old electronics engineer.

It's the tragedy of young lives snuffed prematurely that tends to capture collective hearts.

But people over the age of 65 are better at completing suicides than any other age group, with one in four attempts succeeding, compared with 1 in 20 for the general population, according to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

And it's now - not at the holidays, as commonly believed - that mental-health professionals see spikes in suicide attempts.

"We are in the midst of it right now," said Michael Barr, a training manager for the Southern Arizona Mental Health Corporation. "Springtime is the time of year when suicide just becomes a bigger issue."

Arizona seniors are particularly at risk, he said, given that 10 of the 11 states with the highest per-capita rates of suicide are out West.

"We're rural. We have a lot of firearms. And we have a pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps-and-just-snap-out-of-it mentality," he said.

The reasons that elderly populations are at greater risk aren't perhaps all that surprising. They face the loss of hearing and sight, the loss of the ability to get around, the loss of independence when someone has to relinquish the car keys. Spouses die. Retirees who move here might end up isolated, far from families and friends.

Barr said people tend to make three mistakes when dealing with older people who might be expressing suicidal tendencies. "We either miss it altogether, we dismiss it or we avoid it because we don't know what to do."

It's uncomfortable to bring up, he said, but it's better to get it in the open. "I'd rather have an embarrassing situation than not do anything about it and regret it later," he said.

Garvin's household still feels the loss, he most particularly when he goes back home, when there's a missing place at the table and when his mother does less cooking. His mother stays closer to home because his father used to drive since she couldn't drive at night.

Garvin found Survivors of Suicide, initially hoping that meeting others and talking would help provide answers about why someone would take such an action. Now, he goes so that when new arrivals show up, he might be able to help.

"I can say, 'You may not know it, but I was here six years ago, asking the same things and wondering the same things.'"

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