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Wed, June 26

Talking about senior suicide is not contagious

For whatever reason, as a society we seem to be afraid to discuss suicide among the elderly. It's as if talking about it might make it happen. On the contrary, not talking about it will most assuredly not make it stop. According to data from various sources including Arizona Indicators, the Arizona Department of Vital Statistics, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Center for Disease Control, Arizona has recently ranked among the top 10 states in the country experiencing senior suicide, and Yavapai County ranked among the highest county suicide rates in our state.

I am not qualified to offer professional advice on the subject. If you are contemplating taking your own life, please seek professional help. I do know that living with a debilitating and chronic illness, or facing extreme loneliness and the often-resultant isolation, can leave one feeling helpless and hopeless. As the number of seniors continues to grow, I'm guessing we'll begin seeing frequent stories about elderly individuals or couples whose situations have driven them to commit suicide.

As a society and as a community, we owe it to one another to get this subject out of the closet and onto the table, where we can talk about it openly. At a bare minimum, we need to make sure folks in situations that might lead them down this path of desperation are aware that help is available. Someone cares.

In addition to professionals who are available to people who have the financial means to pay for various services, there are nonprofit agencies that can help. While they certainly can't address every problem, they can often help alleviate loneliness and isolation, and provide guidance to help people cope with many of the challenges that accompany aging.

Whether it's a phone call or friendly visit to check on a person's well-being, or support groups facilitated and attended by one's peers, many of these organizations provide their services for free or minimal cost.

Neighbor to Neighbor in Prescott Valley (775-6145) and People Who Care in Prescott (445-2480) and Chino Valley (636-3295) use volunteers to provide services to homebound adults. Senior centers provide opportunities for companionship, especially for folks who are alone. Meals on Wheels programs provide a link to the outside world. There are senior centers in Chino Valley at 636-9114, Prescott at 778-3000, Prescott Valley at 772-3337, Dewey-Humboldt at 632-0699 and Mayer at 632-7511. West Yavapai Guidance Clinic has programs and support groups specifically for seniors, as well as professional counselors to help people deal with life's challenges. The clinic's phone number is 445-5211. The Alzheimer's Association, 771-9257, has a variety of programs for those affected by dementia, including programs that involve family caregivers. Weekly meetings of the Alzheimer's support group in Prescott, Prescott Valley and Chino Valley provide a lifeline for those caring for loved ones affected by any form of dementia. Adult Care Services in Prescott, 771-2335, has workshops for those directly affected by dementia.

If you or someone you care about is at risk, please reach out before it's too late. There is no need to go it alone. Help is available.

Debbie Stewart is the co-founder of the Senior Connection, a resource for family caregivers, seniors, and senior service providers. She offers the "Caregiver Connection" Newsletter, Senior Resources On-Line Directory, Senior Speakers Bureau and a twice-yearly Senior Conference and Expo. For a free subscription to the newsletter, visit www.SeniorConnection.us or contact Debbie@SeniorConnection.us or 778-3747.

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