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Suicide in Older Adults With and Without Known Mental Illness: Results From the National Violent Death Reporting System, 2003–2016

Published:January 28, 2020DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2019.11.001

      Introduction

      Suicide risk increases with age, and evidence exists for the underdiagnosis and undertreatment of suicide risk in older adults. Recent data suggest that many U.S. adults who die from suicide do not have a known mental health condition. This study compares the characteristics and precipitating circumstances of geriatric suicide decedents with and without known mental illnesses.

      Methods

      This study was a retrospective analysis of suicide deaths for adults aged ≥65 years from the National Violent Death Reporting System, 2003–2016 (n=26,884). ORs compared sociodemographic and clinical characteristics, cause of death, and precipitating circumstances based on coroner/medical examiner and law enforcement reports. Data were collected and analyzed in 2019.

      Results

      Most older male (69.1%) and female (50.2%) suicide decedents did not have a known mental illness. A physical health problem was the most prevalent precipitating circumstance but was more common among older adults without known mental illness. Past suicide attempt, disclosure of suicidal intent, depressed mood, and substance use were more common among those with a known mental illness. More than three fourths of suicide decedents did not disclose their suicidal intent. Most suicide deaths involved firearms, which were disproportionately used by decedents without known mental illness (81.6% of male and 44.6% of female decedents) compared with those with known mental illness (70.5% of male and 30.0% of female decedents).

      Conclusions

      Most older adults who die from suicide do not have a known mental health condition. The rapidly growing U.S. geriatric population calls for more effective methods to identify and treat at-risk older adults, particularly those who are male.
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