Older Men and Mental Health: The Issue

Depression in Older Men

Retrieved March 2009 from
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Men must cope with several kinds of stress as they age. If they have been the primary wage earners for their families and have identified heavily with their jobs, they may feel stress upon retirement-loss of an important role, loss of self esteem-that can lead to depression. Similarly, the loss of friends and family and the onset of other health problems can trigger depression. Depression is not a normal part of aging. Depression is an illness that can be effectively treated, thereby decreasing unnecessary suffering, improving the chances for recovery from other illnesses, and prolonging productive life. However, health care professionals may miss depressive symptoms in older patients. Older men be reluctant to discuss feelings of sadness or grief, or loss of interest in pleasurable activities. They may complain primarily of physical symptoms.


Excerpt from National Guidelines for Senior’s Mental Health: The Assessment of Suicide Risk and Prevention of Suicide (2006), Canadian Coalition for Seniors Mental Health.

Older men are at especially high risk for suicide. In 2002, 430 Canadians 65 years of age or older (361 men and 69 women) died as a result of “intentional self-harm” (Statistics Canada, 2002).. The 1997 suicide rate for older Canadian men (23.0/100,000) was nearly twice that of the nation as a whole (12.3/100,000) (Statistics Canada, 2005). It is widely believed that published suicide rates underestimate the total number of deaths by suicide, due, in part, to the stigma of suicide and other social pressures that may lead family members and health professionals to avoid labeling deaths as suicides. In equivocal cases, coroners might be less likely to consider the death of an older adult as suicide (Ohberg & Lonnqvist, 1998). Approximately one thousand older adults are admitted to Canadian hospitals each year as a consequence of intentional self-harm, but it is not known how often older people in Canada harm themselves without being admitted to hospital.

The lethal potential of self-harm behaviour increases with advancing age (Krug et al., 2002; United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2001). Hanging and firearm use were the most common means of suicide among older men in Canada in 2002 (see Appendix B) (Statistics Canada, 2002). In older women, self-poisoning and hanging were the two most common methods. The lethal potential of suicidal behaviour in later life is demonstrated by the ratio of suicidal behaviour to deaths by suicide. In the general population instances of non-lethal self-harm are approximately 20 times more common than suicide itself. In older adults, this ratio is less than four to one (Conwell et al., 1998; McIntosh et al., 1994). As the older population greatly increases over the coming decades in Canada (Statistics Canada, 1999), there will likely be a greater number of older lives lost to suicide.

Excerpts from a literature scan examining employment issues and mental health in seniors and disabled populations Mental Wellness In Seniors And Persons With Disabilities Employment Backgrounder – Seniors and Persons with Disabilities by Lili Liu, PhD. – University of Alberta.