Suicide is an inherently disturbing, and often inexplicable, subject to society in general. Exacerbating this, moreover, are issues in identifying what motivates suicide in older populations. Assumptions of aging as linked to increased contentment notwithstanding, it is reasonable to believe that the elderly, experienced in life, would be more inclined to have perspectives accepting of negative realities, and less vulnerable to suicidal impulses. The reality, unfortunately, is different, and this suggests a need to consider a single aspect of suicide ideation in the elderly; namely, that external and environmental circumstances may influence the aging to conceal the acute depression motivating suicidal thoughts. Essentially, fear of being ostracized beyond the normal social and familial confines typically confronting, and defining, the elderly may well generate efforts to hide distress, and in ways beyond the repression practiced by younger people considering suicide.
Only recently, in fact, has research focused on suicide in the elderly, potentially indicating a lack of social concern for how an aging population dies (Kleespies, 2016, p. 335). It would then follow that the senior would be reluctant to emphasize personal distress because they perceive a likely lack of authentic interest, and/or do not wish to present themselves as a greater “burden.” One realistic situation exemplifying this is the familial. The older person residing with the younger family is usually ancillary, affection in the relationships notwithstanding. They are generally less able to actively contribute and may then be unwilling to reveal what would be interpreted as a further weakness, or indication of them as demanding.
The fear is not unfounded, as well. Research supports, for example, that misconceptions of loss of control attach to the elderly. Younger people simply assume that the aging relation is prone to forms of incompetence. In reality, older people tend to exercise greater control over how they display emotion, and usually as deliberate efforts to present more anticipated contentment (Gross et al, 1997, p. 591). This then suggests a cause-and-effect scenario, in that the older family member would be extremely hesitant to expose the despair triggering suicidal thoughts.
Study also finds that fears of being identified as “absent-mined” induce older persons to conceal their emotions and cognitive states; they retreat from any behaviors which may promote stereotyping (Jordano & Touron, 2017, p. 309). It is then realistic to consider that this same process exists within senior living environments, if in a different way. More exactly, it is highly probable that the pervasiveness of impatience and/or discontent in these settings works to minimize any sense that drawing attention to personal distress would be impactful.
For example, nursing homes and other such facilities typically define the populations as exhibiting merely tiredness, but this is a deceptive perception. Rather, the state is: “A complex, multidimensional and overwhelming fatigue often accompanied by a gloomy and despondent mood” (van Wijngaarden, Leget, & Goossensen, 2015, p. 261). In the environment populated by the elderly, then, this misconception of tiredness may easily lessen motives to express despair, or such expressions are regarded only as aspects of normal aging.
Consequently, the distinct possibility that the elderly suppress their suicidal thoughts and thus lack support demands investigation. The dilemma of the suicide as concealing the impulses and reasons for the thinking is problematic within all age ranges, but it also seems that this obstacle in care is worsened with age. The importance of this inquiry also lies in the broader implications, beyond the overt need to reduce suicide and its ideation in the elderly. Greater knowledge of why older people are disinclined to seek help must expand understanding of how the elderly live, and what factors generate the despair.