JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - When we think of suicide, teens usually come to mind-- not senior citizens. But the highest suicide rate of any age group belongs to that of people 65 and older. On average, every 90 minutes a senior somewhere chooses suicide.
Al and Retha Runsick met and fell in love after both their spouses had died. He served in the Navy for 26 years as an x-ray technician and even worked as a school bus driver.
"He loved me. He loved me so much," said Retha, reminiscing. "He was 10 years older than me, which it didn't matter when you're this age." Retha laughs as she recalled their courtship and eventual marriage.
They traveled, enjoyed each other's families and settled into this house in Jonesboro. Then Al began to lose his eyesight. He was later diagnosed with lung cancer.
"He was on some really strong pain medication," said Retha.
Looking back, Retha thinks the medication might have led al to do the unthinkable one Sunday afternoon. She arrived home to find a note in the bedroom.
"To my darling wife, Retha, I know you don't want me to take my life." Retha recites Al's suicide note from memory. "I'll be much better off. By the time you read this, I'll be thanking Jesus in my new heavenly body."
Retha ran to his workshop where she discovered his body. He had shot and hung himself.
"I just screamed," Retha exclaimed with agony in her voice. "I grabbed my knees and I thought Oh, my God! Oh my God!"
"Her situation is totally not isolated," said Rose Trosper, Family Caregiver Coordinator Specials for the East Arkansas Area Agency on Aging. "It's happening everyday and it's happening right here in our backyard."
Trosper says senior suicide is bad enough that the federal government is taking notice.
"There's a push for all agencies that are dealing with older adults to let's see what we can do to incorporate our older adults into getting all the care they need," said Trosper.
That should include not just regular doctor's visits and testing, but mental help and being aware of warning signs for suicide.
"Giving away possessions, change in behavior, odd sort of off the wall statements, like when I'm gone, I want you to do this and such" said Trosper. "We as sort of younger older adults...need to pay attention to what our parents and grandparents are saying."
It's been 11 years now for Retha. She's never gotten over her husband's suicide--but she has gotten past it.
"You just have to know that life goes on and you have to make the most of every day," said Retha as her voice breaks with emotion.
The risk of suicide is shown to increase with age. According to Global Action on Aging, people 65 and older account for 13% of the US population--and also one fifth of all reported suicides.
If you need help or someone you know is dealing with depression, call your doctor.. or contact Rose Trosper at 870-930-2204.