Suicides among the elderly could increase if Social Security and Medicare benefits are reduced, two experts warn in interviews with Financial Advisor magazine.

“The additional stress and worry caused by financial challenges (not to mention the inherent violation of the social compact involved in rescinding or removing social benefits that had been promised to them) could tip the scales for some individuals,” said Dr. Marnin Heisel, a board member of the American Association of Suicidiology.

Financial stresses lead more working age people to kill themselves than retirees, but that could change if Social Security and Medicare are cut and they must rely more on their dwindling personal savings to survive predicted, Dr. Yeates Conwell, director of the Office for Aging at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Heisel, a psychologist, and Conwell, a psychiatrist, noted a financial shock, such as a loss of a job or shrinking investments, is rarely a sole cause of suicide.

Rather they speak to a constellation of factors that combine leading individuals to take their own lives, including personality issues, depression, physical illness, disability and the lack of family and friends.

“Finances in and of themselves are a great predictor of who is going to become suicidal,” said Heisel, who teaches at the University of Western Ontario.

When talking to elderly clients about downturns in their investments and other declines in their finances, Heisel and Conwell said it is important for advisors to realize seniors are less likely to acknowledge thinking about suicide when they are than are clients in other age groups.

Compassion may be more effective for advisors in reducing the chances an elderly client may die at his or her own hands than providing good investment returns, they added.

It may be soothing advice or advice on how to cut personal spending while reducing person’s standard of living as little as possible.

A catch phrase among experts in this field is suicide prevention is everyone’s business, but they assure there is no expectation that financial advisors need to add courses in psychiatry or psychology to their continuing education commitments.

Bottom line advice: Offer compassion and understanding but don’t call 911 unless there is a strong worry an elderly client might commit suicide soon after leaving an advisor appointment.