A nursing home can be a place of comfort for an older adult. A well-run nursing home doesn’t just help seniors get the care they need, it also helps them make friendships, engage in meaningful activities, and manage depression or mood disorders. Unfortunately, not every nursing home succeeds. Many seniors will be improperly treated for mental illness at a nursing home, or even attempt to commit suicide. Every year, all too many succeed.
If your loved one took their own life in a nursing home or attempted to, you should consider speaking to a lawyer. Living with this kind of tragedy is heartbreaking, and it’s possible that the nursing home could have prevented it.
John Foy & Associates has one of Atlanta’s most experienced teams of elder neglect lawyers—and we can help. Elderly mental illness and the tragedy of suicide in nursing homes demand urgent attention, and our Atlanta nursing home abuse attorneys are dedicated to supporting families in these complex cases.
How Common Are Suicide Attempts in Nursing Homes?
Sadly, they’re more common than you’d think. Many suicides go unreported or are instead classified as “accidents,” so it can be hard to know the exact numbers. But working from confirmed statistics, seniors over the age of 65 have a suicide rate that is 20% higher than the national average.
Seniors are also more likely to succeed in taking their own lives. For example, among youths, only about 1 in 25 suicide attempts result in death. Among the elderly, that number is 1 in 4. This can be attributed to seniors being more fragile overall; many seniors suffer from multiple health conditions and face a higher risk of infection or complications with self-inflicted harm. Sadly, the higher success rate may also be due to seniors simply not being properly supervised.
Although common, suicide at all ages often goes ignored. There’s a perceived stigma around suicide, and mental illness, which means the public often doesn’t want to talk about it. However, nursing home staff are supposed to be well aware of the risks that elderly residents face and have the power to help prevent it.
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Why do Seniors Attempt to Commit Suicide?
The reasons for the high elderly suicide rate are not well understood. One suggestion is that nursing home residents are simply at higher risk of the same factors that influence suicide anywhere else. These factors include:
- Social isolation. Isolation or feelings of loneliness are a major risk factor for suicidal thoughts and actions. Even in the group setting of a nursing home, many seniors feel isolated because they’re away from family, because they’ve lost friends, or because they are widowed or single.
- Functional impairment. Functional impairment refers to any health condition where some part of the body does not function at its normal, healthy capacity—particularly if it gets in the way of daily life. This includes everything from limited mobility to difficulties with hearing or vision to kidney conditions requiring dialysis. Seniors experience high rates of functional impairment.
- Psychiatric illness. Seniors also experience a higher rate of mental illness than the general population does.
What Role does Mental Illness Play in Elder Suicide?
Mental illness strongly correlates with suicidal behavior. Estimates of the number of suicides that involve mental disorders range from 25% to 90%. In particular, major depression and other mood disorders are strong risk factors for suicide.
Nursing homes are aware of this. Not all nursing homes are equipped to provide mental health care, but all need to communicate with a resident’s psychiatrist (if any) and assess residents’ psychological history and risk of mental illness. Nursing home staff should be trained to recognize signs of depression, isolation, and mental illness before they develop into suicidal behavior.
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Whose “Fault” Are Injuries Caused By a Suicide Attempt?
One of the greatest tragedies of suicides within nursing homes is that blame often gets assigned to the victim. A properly cared-for resident does not take their own life. The person who attempts suicide is suffering from an illness, acting out of delusion, or acting under extraordinary stress. Every suicide is preventable.
This is particularly true in a nursing home, where staff are supposed to be monitoring residents and often do so 24 hours a day.
Of course, some suicides come without warning. But the majority of people who take their own lives have a past history of suicidal behavior, self-harm, mental illness, or other risk factors. When these individuals are not given the care they need it represents a failure of the care providers—not the family and not the individual themselves.
Can the Nursing Home Be Held Liable for a Suicide or Attempted Suicide?
Yes. Nurses are liable for neglecting or not caring for their residents. Allowing a resident to take their own life is a clear example of neglect. And nursing homes have the power to prevent many suicides and suicide attempts. They do this by:
- Training staff to take suicidal comments or behavior seriously
- Following the orders of a resident’s psychiatrist, if any
- Knowing the mental health history of every incoming resident and planning their care accordingly
- Documenting and reporting any suicidal behavior
- Offering engaging, meaningful group activities that help residents overcome social isolation
- Treating all residents with dignity, warmth, and respect—including those with a mental disorder
When a nursing home does its job well, it can actually decrease the chance of suicide. But all too often, they run facilities that are crowded, understaffed, or have high staff turnover, leading to the risk of letting someone fall through the cracks.
If someone you love has been harmed in a suicide attempt at a nursing home or took their own life, you have legal options. Nothing can bring back a loved one, or undo the pain of a suicide attempt.
However, you may be able to obtain a financial recovery that can help pay for medical bills and treatment. The attorneys of John Foy & Associates are here to help. We offer a FREE consultation and we charge nothing unless we get you a financial recovery.