INTRODUCTION This research provides an overview of the phenomenon of suicide among the elderly. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of this research if defining the term elderly, for, as the American population ages, the perception of who is old appears to be in almost continual adjustment. Both The MerriamWebster Third New International Dictionary, and The Random House Dictionary say that elderly is somewhat old. Websters adds that elderly is beyond middleage; however, it defines middleage simply as past youth and before old age. Random House is somewhat more definite on middleage, defining it as that period of human life from about 40 years old to about 60 years old. The Social Security Administration generally establishes 65 years old as the criterion for oldage; however, if one is willing to accept a lower oldage pension, one can be old at 62. By contrast, many of today's active people in their fifties and sixties prefer to think of oldage as something that begins at 75.
Arbitrarily, one could state that oldage begins at that point in life when a minimum of 1.5 percent of one's age group peers may be expected to die in a single year. For the American population as a whole, that point is reached at age 62 (Bureau of the Census, 1991). For white males and black females, however, that point occurs at age 60, while for black males it occurs at age 52, and for white females not until age 66 (Bureau of the Census, 1991). There appears, therefore, to be no unambiguous approach to defining the term elderly. For purposes of this overview of suicide, thus, elderly was arbitrarily defined as beginning at age 66, the age at which twopercent of one's age peers in the population as a whole may be expected to die in a single year (Bureau of the Census, 1991).
PLACING SUICIDE STATISTICS IN PERSPECTIVE
For all age groups, the suicide rate in the United States is 12.8 persons per 100,000 thousand population (Burea...