“Suicide risk increases with age, and evidence exists for the underdiagnosis and undertreatment of suicide risk in older adults,” wrote Timothy J. Schmutte, Psy.D., and Samuel T. Wilkinson, M.D., both of Yale School of Medicine.
To better understand the similarities and differences between older adults with and without known mental illness who died of suicide, Schmutte and Wilkinson analyzed data from the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS). This U.S. database contains extensive information on the characteristics of suicide decedents and the circumstances that precipitated their deaths. Known mental illness was defined as whether a decedent was identified as having a current mental health problem based on law enforcement or coroner/medical examiner reports.
Of the 26,884 suicide deaths recorded during the study period, 83.2% occurred in men. Most older men (69.1%) and women (50.2%) who died of suicide did not have a known mental illness.
Most suicide deaths involved firearms, which were disproportionately used by decedents without known mental illness (81.6% of men and 44.6% of women) compared with those with known mental illness (70.5% of men and 30.0% of women).
“[T]his study highlights a need for prevention efforts that address a broad range of risk factors for late-life suicide. ... Targeted community efforts to reduce stigma and improve help-seeking in older adults, particularly men, and other population-based strategies (for example, legislation that reduces access to handguns) may be effective at reaching vulnerable adults and reducing suicide rates,” Schmutte and Wilkinson wrote.
For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “Loss of Partner to Suicide Increases Risk of Mental Health Problems, Death.”