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Suicide amongst older adults is a neglected area of research, despite the fact it is a significant problem.

The suicide rate for adults 65 years of age or older rose in the US by 9% between 1980 and 1992. During that period, there were 74,675 suicides by elderly people.

In 1993, suicide rates ranged from 15 per 100,000 population, among persons 65 to 69 years old, to 24 per 100,000 population for persons 80 to 85 years of age, a rate that is double the overall US rate.

Potential under reporting of suicides amongst the elderlyEdit

It is suggested that minimum estimates of suicides among the elderly in the US range from 6000 to 10,000 annually. Often these suicides are not reported but are listed as accidental deaths. There are a number of resons for this underreporting:

  • Where older people die isolated and alone with no friends or family it is easier for the authorities to settle matters quickly.
  • Suicides are often mistaken for natural deaths, especially in cases of medicinal overdosing, because many older people take several medications.

Suicide in older malesEdit

There is a high rate among white males over 80 which is the fastest growing sub-population of elderly adults in the United States and they are at the greatest risk of all age, gender, and racial groups. The suicide rate for this group is six times the current overall rate and three times the rate of African-American males over 80 years old. The incidence of suicide among males over 75 years old is roughly twice that of other adult males, while white males are at nearly 10 times the risk for suicide as nonwhite males across the age spectrum..

Suicide in older femalesEdit

Methods used by older people commiting suicideEdit

Older adults tend to use highly lethal means to commit suicide.

In a US study in 1988, nearly 8 out of 10 suicides committed by men 65 years and above were done so with a firearm. Of the 6363 elderly adults who committee suicide in 1988, for example, 67% (4264) used firearms to end their lives. Hanging and poisoning were the second and third leading causes of suicide in this group.

See alsoEdit

References & BibliographyEdit

Key textsEdit



  • Barraclough, B. (1971) Suicide in the elderly. In Recent Developments in Psychogeriatrics (eds D. W. K. Kay & A. Walks), pp. 87–97. Headley: Royal Medico-Psychological Association.
  • Bruce ML, Pearson JL.(1999). Designing an intervention to prevent suicide: PROSPECT (Prevention of Suicide in Primary Care Elderly: Collaborative Trial). Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience,1(2): 100-12.
  • Caine, E.D., Lyness, J.M., & Conwell, Y. (1996). Diagnosis of late-life depression: Preliminary studies in primary care settings. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 4, S45-S50.
  • Cattell, H.(2000), Advances in Psychiatric Treatment vol. 6, pp. 102–108 Full text

Cattell, H. (1988) Elderly suicide in London: An analysis of coroners inquests. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 3, 251–261. Cattell, H. & Jolley, D. J. (1995) One hundred cases of suicide in elderly people. British Journal of Psychiatry, 166, 451–457.

  • Conwell, Y., & Brent, D. (1995). Suicide and aging I: Patterns of psychiatric diagnosis. International Psychogeriatrics, 7, 149-164.
  • Conwell Y. Suicide in later life: a review and recommendations for prevention. Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior, 2001; 31(Suppl): 32-47.
  • Conwell, Y. (1996). Diagnosis and treatment of depression in late life. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.
  • Duberstein, P.R., Conwell, Y., Seidlitz, L., Denning, D.G., Cox, C., & Caine, E.D. (2000). Personality traits and suicidal behavior and ideation in depressed inpatients 50 years of age and older. Journal of Gerontology, 55B, 18-26.
  • Gould, M.S., Wallenstein, S., Kleinman, M.H., O'Carroll, P.W., & Mercy, J.A. (1990). Suicide clusters: An examination of age-specific effects. American Journal of Public Health, 80, 211-212.
  • Heikkinen, M. E. & Lonnqvist, J. K. (1995) Recent life events in elderly suicide: A nationwide study in Finland.International Psychogeriatrics, 7, 287–300.
  • Henriksson, M. M., Marttunen, M. J., Isometsa, E. T., et al(1995) Mental disorders in elderly suicide. International Psychogeriatrics, 7, 275–286.
  • Hepple, J. & Quinton, C. (1997) One hundred cases of attempted suicide in the elderly. British Journal of Psychiatry,171, 42–46.
  • Jones, J. S., Stanley, B., Mann, J. J., et al (1990) CSF 5-HIAA and HVA concentrations in elderly depressed patients who attempted suicide. American Journal of Psychiatry, 147, 1225–1227.
  • Kelly. S. & Bunting. J. (1998) Trends in Suicide in England and Wales 1982–1996. Population Trends, 92, 29–41.
  • Merrill, J. & Owens, J. (1990) Age and attempted suicide.Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 82, 385–388.
  • Neeleman, J., Mak, V. & Wessely, S. (1997) Suicide by age,ethnic group, coroners’ verdicts and country of birth. Athree-year survey in inner London. British Journal of Psychiatry, 171, 463–467.
  • Osuna, E., Perez-Carceles, M., Conejero, J., et al (1997)Epidemiology of suicide in elderly people in Madrid, Spain(1990–1994). Forensic Science International, 87, 73–80.
  • Pearson, J. L., Conwell, Y., Lindesay, J., et al (1997) Elderly suicide: a multi-national view. Ageing and Mental Health,1, 107–111.
  • Purcell, D., Thrush, C. R. N. & Blanchette, P. L. (1999)Suicide among the elderly in Honolulu County: A

multiethnic comparative study (1987–1992). International Psychogeriatrics, 11, 57–66.

  • Raleigh, V. S., Bulusu, L. & Balarajan, R.(1990) Suicide among immigrants from the Indian subcontinent. British Journal of Psychiatry, 156, 46–50.
  • Rich, C. L., Young, D. & Fowler, R. C. (1986) San Diego Suicide Study: 1. Young vs old subjects. Archives of General Psychiatry, 43, 577–582.
  • Rutz, W., von Knorring, L. & Walinder, J. (1989) Frequency of suicide on Gotland after systematic postgraduate

education of general practitioners. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 80, 151–155.

  • Shah, A. & De, T. (1998) Suicide and the elderly. International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice, 2, 3–17.
  • Skoog, I., Aevarsson, O., Beskow, J., et al (1996) Suicidal feelings in a population sample of non-demented 85 year olds. American Journal of Psychiatry, 153, 1015–1020.
  • Waern, M., Beslow, J., Runeson, B., et al (1996) High rate of antidepressant treatment in elderly people who commit suicide. British Medical Journal, 313, 1118.

Additional materialEdit



External linksEdit

Older Adults: Depression and Suicide Facts - NIHM factsheet

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