QUESTION: I help provide care for my great aunt who is now 91. She exhibits depressive symptoms such as diminished appetite, irregular sleep habits and lack of interest in self-care. My family is worried sick that she will harm herself, or worse yet, take her own life. She is hardly ever alone, but things can happen quickly. Are we putting our heads in the sand by not asking her directly? –Marla
ANSWER: Your heads are in the right place, and it’s not in the sand. Psychologists tell us it is a myth that bringing up the subject of suicide will hasten the process. So, go ahead and talk to her. While the subject is a complex one, it is best to keep the questions simple: “Have you ever thought of harming yourself?” or “Do you wish you could go to sleep and not awaken?” If your aunt is nurturing thoughts of ending her life, you need to keep her safe. Bring her directly to your local hospital emergency room. Her loss of interest in life is a call for help. A medical professional will assess whether or not she is suffering from depression, and if she is, help you and your family get her back on track.
Patricia Smith is a certified Compassion Fatigue Specialist with 20 years of training experience. As founder of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project© (www.compassionfatigue.org), the outreach division of Healthy Caregiving, LLC, she writes, speaks and facilities workshops nationwide in service of those who care for others. She has authored several books including To Weep for a Stranger: Compassion Fatigue in Caregiving, which is available at www.healthycaregiving.com or Amazon.com.