Vulnerable Populations & Suicide Prevention

Populations at heightened risk for suicide include the elderly, those between 45 and 64 years old, and those who identify as American Indian or Alaska Native. Today we’ll explore these populations, how you can help, and resources for each.

American Indians and Alaska Natives

The suicide rates for American Indians and Alaskan Natives are more than double the national average and Native teens experience the highest rate of suicide of any other population group in the United States. According to the Youth Risk Behavior Study, 16 percent of students at Bureau of Indian Affairs schools in 2001 reported having attempted suicide in the preceding 12 months. 22% of females and 12% of males reported to have attempted suicide, while 5% had serious thoughts of suicide in the past year.

Middle Aged and Elderly Adults

In 2014, the highest suicide rate was among people 85 an older. The second highest rate occurred in those between 45 and 64 year of age. The elderly makes up 14.5% of the population but account for 18% of all suicides. Elderly suicides in Kansas are 17th highest in the United States. Some believe that elderly suicide rates are underreported by as much as 40%, while the population continues to grow.

Keeping with this year’s theme, “Connect. Communicate. Care.”, here are some tips to help reduce suicide rates in vulnerable populations.

  • Do not be afraid to ask if someone has thoughts about suicide. You will not be giving them new ideas.
  • Do not act surprised or shocked. This will make them withdraw from you.
  • Continue talking and ask how you can help.
  • Offer hope that alternatives are available. Do not offer shallow reassurance. It may make the person believe that you do not understand.
  • Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support. If you cannot do this, find someone who can, such as a neighbor or a minister, priest, or rabbi.
  • Ask whether there are guns in the house. Ask the person what plans they have to die. The more detailed the plan, the higher the risk.
  • When safe, remove guns and other methods of death.
  • Do not be sworn to secrecy. Get help from persons or agencies that specialize in crisis intervention.

Call a crisis hotline in your area or 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or seek the help of a specialist.

The GOAL you want to portray is that by working together through awareness, promotion and education, we can reduce the incidence of suicides and prevent individuals from becoming suicidal.

Lindsey Stillwell, LMSW