In 2021, eight people in Door County died by suicide. Six of these (75%) were age 60 or older. In recognition of May as Mental Health Awareness Month, Door County Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) and Senior Life Solutions at Door County Medical Center (DCMC) are joining together to call attention to this critical issue for seniors in our community. Together, these two organizations work to reduce stigma, improve access to care, educate communities on signs and symptoms, and highlight mental health progress.
“The past couple of years have forced many to accept tough situations that they had little to no control over, resulting in many experiencing mental health issues for the first time,” said Lauren Daoust, Program Director of DCMC’s Senior Life Solutions program. “If you found that it impacted your mental health, you aren’t alone.”
While rural and urban areas have similar prevalence of mental illness, the circumstances and access to treatment may look different for communities like ours. The National Rural Health Association (NRHA) tells us that rural residents face more obstacles obtaining behavioral health services. As a result, distinct mental health differences are seen rurally compared to urban residents.
Studies have also shown that the risk of suicide is higher in rural areas, making it that much more vital that individuals seek out and have access to help. According to the Door County Medical Center Community Health Needs Assessment, Door County has a suicide rate of 13.17 per 100,000 population, nearly 2 points higher than the national average. The National Council on Aging indicates that while older adults comprise just 12% of the population, they make up approximately 18% of suicides. Older adults tend to plan suicide more carefully and use more lethal methods. Among seniors who attempt suicide, one in four will succeed, compared to 1 in 200 youths. Even if a senior who attempts suicide does not die, they are less likely to recover from the effects. As one of the fastest aging counties in Wisconsin, we need to be aware of these unfortunate facts.
While solutions such as telehealth and other services promise to expand access to mental health care across the U.S., there are things we can all do to help ourselves and others who may be struggling.
- Do regular check-ins with friends.
- Simply talking about mental health can open up the door for people to feel more comfortable and less afraid to seek help. The American Psychiatric Association says, "Research shows that knowing or having contact with someone with mental illness is one of the best ways to reduce stigma. Individuals speaking out and sharing their stories can have a positive impact. When we know someone with mental illness, it becomes less scary and more real and relatable."
- Learn what symptoms to watch for.
- According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), things to watch for include sleep or appetite changes, rapid or dramatic shifts in mood, loss of initiative or desire to participate in activities, increased sensitivity, recent social withdrawal, and loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed, or difficulty performing everyday tasks.
- Seek support.
- Mental Health is essential to everyone’s overall health and well-being, so just like other areas of your health, you may at times need to seek additional support from a professional. There are many ways someone can receive the support they need, including individual or group therapy, teletherapy, support groups, etc. Mental health support can help reduce stress and improve the quality of life for those it serves by helping provide a space to identify problems, build coping skills, and find unbiased support.
DCMC’s Senior Life Solutions works year-round to provide education, amplify the voices of those in need, and continues to improve the quality of life for the patients we serve. If you would like more information, education, or would like to discuss support for yourself or a loved one, please call us at (920)746-3791. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, call the Door County Crisis Hotline at (920)746-2588. In case of emergency, call 911.