When a young person ends their life, it gets our attention and rightfully so. But when an older adult does the same, we don’t hear about it. So to learn that people age 85 and older have the highest suicide rate of any age group makes a person pause. These mental health facts from the National Council on Aging also point out:

• Older white men have a suicide rate almost six times that of the general population.

• One in four older adults experiences some mental disorder and two thirds do not receive the treatment they need.

• Untreated mental health among older adults is associated with poor health outcomes, higher health care use, increased disability and impairment, increased mortality and high risk of suicide.

Stigma may prevent individuals from seeking help, and even if a person who is struggling turns to a friend or family member, the average person’s discomfort level with broaching the topic can be a barrier. Most of us don’t know what to say or how to say it.

To support mental health and awareness in the seven-county metro, the Center for Community Health (a collaborative effort of public health agencies, health plans and hospital systems) has launched the Make It OK campaign. You may have seen the television ads, usually depicting young adults on the verge of having “the conversation” with an empty word balloon over their heads.

Make It OK is aimed at increasing public awareness of positive mental health practices. The campaign is designed to encourage people to talk more openly about mental illness and ask for help. In addition to raising awareness, the campaign offers concrete steps on how to effectively discuss issues in a productive and non-confrontational way. People like you and I can learn how to talk about mental illnesses and what to say to someone who may need help. A free 45-minute workshop is being offered to the public Thursday, July 30, at 9:30 a.m. at Community Thread.

Presenter Shelly Rock, RN, is a Make It OK Ambassador. According to Rock, “this workshop will teach people supportive words that break down the barriers and discover ways to help a friend who may be struggling. People will learn more about mental illness and ways to support friends and family members as they deal with their anxiety, depression or other mental illness.”

Signs of suicide risk must be taken seriously and acted upon quickly since suicidal older adults typically use highly lethal methods. Suicide among older adults is typically not about “dying with dignity,” but is rather a sign of deep emotional despair that can be addressed with treatment.

Don’t be like the guy in the television ad with the empty word balloon over his head. Call Community Thread at 651-439-7434 to reserve your place at the workshop. You may possibly change (or even save) a life.

By Sally Anderson