Report: Senior Suicides Are Increasing In Northeast Ohio

Suicides have steadily increased in the 60+ age group across the state. Experts say isolation may contribute to the rise. [aboikis / shutterstock]
Suicides have steadily increased in the 60+ age group across the state. Experts say isolation may contribute to the rise. [aboikis / Shutterstock]
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The suicide rate is increasing in Ohio, according to a new report from the Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Advocacy Coalition (MHAC).

The report shows, overall, suicides in the state rose by about 34 percent between 2009 to 2018.

Deaths by suicide in the 60+ age group increased steadily between 2009 and 2018. Local data shows a similar trend -- the 60+ age range had the highest number of deaths by suicide in nearly all Northeast Ohio counties.

“One of the biggest reasons is isolation,” said Roberta Taliaferro, director of behavioral health at the May Dugan Center in Cleveland.

The isolation has gotten worse during the COVID-19 pandemic, Taliaferro said.

“Even though there are folks in assisted living and say, rehab, that have staff there to help them, they’re still isolated, and they don’t have the ability like many of us do to connect via the Internet or other high-tech ways,” Taliaferro said.

Experiencing declining health and coping with deaths of family members and friends are other possible factors for the increase, Taliaferro said.  

Everyone can do their part to combat senior isolation by reaching out, she said.

 “Connect with them, call them. If you can, go see them. But definitely give them a call to let them know that someone’s thinking about them and they’re not totally alone,” she said.

More suicide prevention outreach is needed for all age groups, Taliaferro said. The focus has shifted away from these efforts over time toward other public health issues, such as the opioid crisis, and now the pandemic, Taliaferro said.

“It doesn't seem like we can focus on more than one thing at a time,” she said. “And right now, we’re focused on COVID.”

Taliaferro worries about all people, not just seniors, experiencing isolation during the pandemic. “It’s not just suicide – I think there will be a rise in homicide too,” she said. “We saw that a little bit of that in Cleveland over the weekend."

Cleveland officials are investigating more than two dozen violent incidents that took place during the holiday weekend. Officials say the spike in crime reflects larger trends nationwide, sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.

“People are social beings, and when they’re isolated, they get very stressed, and very depressed, and very anxious,” Taliaferro said.

Cuyahoga County’s 10-year average suicide rate is 12 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the report. Summit County had the highest 10-year average rate in  Northeast Ohio.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

 

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