Briefing Examines Preventing Suicide Among Older Adults

NASW Senior Government Relations Associate James Finley represented the association at a Capitol Hill briefing in June entitled “Senior Suicide: Understanding the Risk, Preventing the Tragedy.”

The briefing was hosted by the Suicide Prevention Action Network (SPAN) USA in cooperation with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Reps. Darlene Hooley (D-Ore.) and Tim Murphy (R-Pa.).

SPAN USA is the nation’s only suicide prevention organization dedicated to leveraging grassroots support among suicide survivors and others to advance public policies that prevent suicide.

Finley’s presentation was titled “Public Policy Opportunities to Reduce Senior Suicide.”

He noted that mental health coverage is inadequate for seniors and younger people with disabilities. While Medicare copayment for outpatient services is 20 percent, most mental health services are 50 percent, Finley noted.

“Copayment is a burden on some of the most vulnerable clients, seniors and people with serious disabilities,” Finley said. “The Administration on Aging estimates that only half of older adults with mental disorders receive treatment.”

Finley said that total health care costs are 50 percent higher for people with depression and that the annual cost of mental health disorders in the U.S. economy is $204 billion. The societal costs, including burden on caregivers and lost productivity, is $113 billion, he said.

Finley said the prevalence of mental health disorders in the general population is 21 percent. However, among Medicare beneficiaries, 26 percent have mental health disorders. He noted that 59 percent of Medicare beneficiaries with disabilities have mental disorders.

Finley said the Stop Senior Suicide Act (S. 1854 and H.R. 4897) if passed into law would amend the Public Health Service Act to require the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to establish an Interagency Geriatric Mental Health Planning Council to coordinate and collaborate on the planning for the delivery of mental health services and to include suicide prevention, to older adults.

This legislation would create HHS grants for public or private organizations to plan and implement elderly suicide early intervention and prevention strategies at the state and local level.

Finley said affiliates of nonprofit professional and provider organizations as well as groups such as veterans’ service organizations and “meals on wheels” providers could participate in this proposal.