When Older Adults Consider Suicide, Depression May Not Be Main Reason

THURSDAY May 1, 2014, 2014 -- Health, money and family problems -- not depression -- are the main factors that trigger thoughts of death and suicide among elderly Americans, a new study shows.

Previous research has pointed to depression as the main cause of suicide among seniors. However, this study of nearly 3,500 New York City residents, aged 65 to 75, found that factors other than depression were responsible for thoughts of death and suicide 75 percent of the time.

"We asked this population directly why they had thoughts of suicide and death, and what we found contradicted past study findings -- the vast majority of participants said factors other than depression including illness, disability, pain, financial concerns, family problems and bereavement are driving these thoughts," Dr. Gary Kennedy, director of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, said in a Montefiore news release.

"These unexpected findings suggest that efforts to reduce the high rate of suicide among older Americans will need to broaden the approach to prevention," added Kennedy, who is also a professor of psychiatry and behavioral Sciences at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University.

The study, sponsored by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, was presented recently at the annual meeting of the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry.

"The national prevalence of suicide-related death in adults over the age of 65 is nearly 15 per 100,000, and this intractable tragedy is expected to increase with the aging of the baby boomer generation," Kennedy said.

"Current suicide prevention interventions focus largely on treating depression, and while suicide rates have declined in this population, ideal treatment does not achieve ideal results," he said.

Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention outlines suicide risk factors and warning signs.

Posted: May 2014


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