Karen Letofsky, the Associate Director at the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, said people often assume seniors should be depressed. Letofksy said there’s the assumption that it comes with the territory of being older — the losses associated with aging inevitably lead to depression.
“It’s interesting, seniors have one of the highest suicide rates and the lowest diagnoses of depression and partly it’s because of ageism in the fact that we think as people get older, they should be depressed,” she said. “In fact, depression isn’t OK at any age; it needs to be diagnosed and treated.”
According to Statistics Canada, although suicide deaths affect almost all age groups, those aged 40 to 59 had the highest rates, and 19 per cent of suicides are people over 60 years old.
Letofsky said people just don’t talk about it, and the lack of attention is reflected in the medical system. The conversation around suicide and mental illness tends to be skewed towards youth, she said.
“I don’t think as a sector we’ve been very good at even identifying or addressing the issues of seniors mental health,” she said. “They’re really an invisible group and they are experiencing a lot of stresses in life.”
In terms of what stresses are common among seniors, Letofsky points to a number of possibilities. She said a lot of it is the expected stresses that come with aging, but also a lack of support and a feeling of isolation — that they’re dealing with thoughts of suicide and depression by themselves.
It’s why, she said, an event like the one Geir Larsen will be speaking at is so important. Especially in Qualicum Beach, where the average age is higher than any other in Canada.
Larsen, who is a senior currently living in Nanaimo, will be speaking at an ‘Empathy for Suicide’ event in Qualicum Beach on Feb. 24. Starting at 7 p.m. at St. Stephen’s Church at 150 Village Way. All ages are welcome and encouraged to attend, but Larsen emphasizes the experience of dealing with depression when you’re older.
Larsen has spoken at events on and off for decades and said the feedback he’s received from older people has stuck with him. He said he grew up in a family and during a time when showing emotions wasn’t encouraged, and that he hears the same thing from many seniors he’s spoken to.
“We are a forgotten generation,” he said. “There’s something wrong if you have a physical illness, or a broken bone, no problem talking about it. But if you have an emotional issue or a broken heart, you don’t mention that.”
Larsen isn’t a licensed therapist or psychologist, but rather someone with experience he hopes will inspire others. His talk is described as him “speaking candidly and sensitively, primarily in story form, about his many terrifying, and at some times tragic experiences followed by the triumph of his recovery and personal healing.”
If you need support, call the Vancouver Island Crisis line toll-free at 1-888-494-3888. More information is available at vicrisis.ca.