HADLEY — Jen Matoney experienced the devastations of suicide. The co-chair of the Pioneer Valley Coalition for Suicide Prevention lost her mother to suicide in 2007, a life altering shock.

“It’s grief that I always carry with me,” Matoney said. “I have processed my grief and learned to live with it, and turned my pain into purpose now, but it’s just extremely life altering and shatters your sense of safety in the world.”

Matoney changed careers after her mother’s death, transitioned from television production to suicide prevention services. Recently, she helped organize and publicize an event, Sage Stage of Life: Empowering Older Adults through Supportive Conversations, scheduled from 1-4:30 p.m. at the Council on Aging on March 6. The event will also be broadcast on youtube.com/@HadleyMedia.

Seniors and caregivers interested in attending will have to watch the broadcast. Every seat for the event at the COA has been reserved.

The seminar will feature four speakers on topics of importance including isolation and connection, sex and love, grief and loss and stigma and emotional wellness. The presenters will include Dr. Jane Mildred from Amherst Neighbors, Tammy Nothe-Hebert from the Center for Human Development, Maureen Callahan Smith, author of the book, “On Grief and Loss,” and Colleen Sondrini from the Brien Center.

The discussions may not focus on suicide prevention and will be a preventive measure in themselves. Seniors need supportive communication with loved ones, community assistants and local organizers like Matoney. Communication is a skill. Those who attend will learn new ways of talking with elders, more ways to connect with them about the experiences unique to the elderly.

“We know that older adults are often living alone, so they are more isolated than other age groups,” Matoney said. “They have also experienced significant losses in their life, friends, a spouse … They’re also commonly experiencing changes in their health [and] losing their autonomy.”

Matoney’s mother was only 58 when she died after being forced into an early retirement. Attempts at suicide are usually not due to one cause. Seniors often suffer a change in life roles, a trigger for anxiety and depression. The loss of a career furthers the feelings of disconnectedness.

The later decades of life can bring depression, disease and disability, Matoney said, and seniors often have more access to lethal means than other age groups. The key for loved ones is to offer support and learn how to discuss issues with an elder using the correct language.

Matoney will not be a presenter at the March 6 event, but has recommendations for ways to better communicate with elders and monitor their mental health needs. Engaged listening is a primary tool. Changes in mood or appetite often reveal a loss of joy in life.

“We know that having companionship and friendship and a sense of belonging, those protect against suicide risk,” Matoney said. “There’s an epidemic of loneliness in our country. That’s definitely something we all need to be paying attention to.”

Depression and other impacts of aging weigh heavy on the elderly. Matoney said in 2021, people 85+ had the highest suicide rate by age group in both the state and nationally. Between 2001 and 2021 the rate of suicide in men ages 55 to 74 rose significantly, with a similar increase in women 55 to 84. Attempts are more often lethal in older age brackets.

Caregivers and family members, noticing an senior has lost interest in favorite activities, may learn what to do and how to talk to him or her by calling the suicide and crisis lifeline. The crisis line, reached by dialing 988, is a federal program and available in every state.

“You can call that number and talk it through,” Matoney said. Callers will “get more of a sense of the situation and what they should do to help someone.”

The event on March 6, Sage Stage of Life: Empowering Older Adults through Supportive Conversations, will begin with speaker presentations, after which attendees will participate in small group discussions, one topic for each group. Those wishing to watch online will find the program at youtube.com/@HadleyMedia.

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