By Ashwin, UK Correspondent, [RxPG] The majority of elderly people who deliberately harmed themselves had high suicide intent, according to a new case control study.
Suicide is a tragic ending of life and is a cause of considerable distress for family, carers and health professionals. This study set out to examine the mental health and social factors, and life events, involved in deliberate self-harm (DSH) in the elderly.
It also aimed to determine risk factors that might help to identify older adults suffering from depression, and most at risk of DSH and suicide.
A case control study was conducted, comparing 76 older adults who had deliberately harmed themselves with 50 depressed older adults referred to mental health services. Assessments were made of suicidal intent, depression, hopelessness, social contacts and networks, and life events and difficulties.
High levels of suicide intent were found among the majority of elderly who deliberately harmed themselves. 70% were depressed, and 29% had been to see their general practitioner within one week of the episode.
DSH subjects were frequently living alone, with an isolated lifestyle and poor physical health. Compared with depressed controls, DSH subjects were significantly more likely to have a poorly integrated social network, and were less likely to receive visits from health, social and voluntary services.
Hopelessness was an important factor in identifying elderly people who are depressed and at risk of self-harm. The proportions of DSH subjects and depressed controls experiencing a severe life event were similar.
The authors of the study conclude that the elderly who have deliberately harmed themselves are usually failed suicides with high intent scores, which makes them a useful group for studying suicidal behaviour in general.
More assertive strategies are needed to identify isolated and depressed older adults in the community,
Royal College of Psychiatrists
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