A “resource guide” on the APA website claims, “Depression and suicide are significant public health issues for older adults. Depression is one of the most common mental disorders experienced by elders, but fortunately is treatable by a variety of means.”
Like many sources, this guide puts “depression and suicide” together. As a result, many “elders” are cruelly forced to live meaningless and painful lives.
While some “elders” may resort to suicide as a result of depression, the truth is that not all depressed people are suicidal, and not all suicide is the result of depression.
In some circumstances, especially among the “elderly,” suicide can be viewed as a rational response to a condition that removes the person’s opportunity to live a pain-free, meaningful life. Pain is not always responsive to treatment and side effects of medications can be so horrific as to take away all quality of life.
In 2015 the New York Times Magazine reported the suicide of Sandy Bem, a distinguished research psychologist diagnosed with Alzheimers. While she controlled her mind, she wanted to avoid the miserable life that lay ahead.
In her book Never Say Die, Susan Jacoby describes a man who could no longer live alone, after living in solitude for many years and valuing his privacy; he stole his caregiver’s car keys, drove to a bridge, and jumped. She argues that he should have had easier access to death, not psychiatric treatment.
Australian scientist David Goodall chose to die at age 104. He didn’t have a terminal illness or even a serious illness. But he’d just fallen in his own apartment, lying on the floor for two days till his housekeeper found him. His life was no longer meaningful.
“At my age, and even rather less than my age, one wants to be free to choose the death and when the death is the appropriate time,” he said.
These rational decisions are not the result of depression.
During WWII, the CIA gave cyanide tablets to spy pilots who were in danger of crashing into POW camps. This may be a fantasy, but in some countries suicide pills were part of spy equipment.
In her wonderful book Prague Winter, Madeleine Albright shares the story of a female spy who swallowed her cyanide pill to avoid arrest and torture by Nazi soldiers. Sure, she had pain. But compared to her son, who was tortured and then killed, she got a cakewalk.
For many innocent elderly people, a nursing home will resemble a POW camp, but with no possibility of rescue and no opportunity to live a good life afterward.
Patrick Henry famously said, “Give me liberty or give me death.” Nobody said he needed to seek validation from a mental health professional.
In my book on aging in sneakers, I argue that everyone should get a cyanide pill when they turn 75, to use as they like.
I also suggest they receive a gift certification to the nearest Mafia hitman, who can make their death look like an accident (“just another shooting in South Philly”) to spare their families from unnecessary guilt. I’m not sure I’m joking.
This post comes from my book, When I Get Old I Plan To Be A Bitch.