Suicide Later in Life

Suicide in later life is a major public health concern in the U.S., where more than 6,000 older adults take their own lives every year. Suicide prevention in this age group is made challenging by the high lethality of older adults’ suicidal behavior; few survive their first attempt to harm themselves. Research has revealed that factors in each of five domains place older adults at increased risk for suicide—psychiatric illness, personality traits and coping styles, medical illness, life stressors and social disconnectedness, and functional impairment. Little research has examined the effectiveness of interventions to reduce the toll of suicide in older adulthood. The study of strategies to decrease suicide deaths in later life should emphasize four areas. First is approaches to early detection of older people at risk through improved understanding of multidimensional determinants and their interactions. Second is research on the impact of general health promotion that optimizes well-being and independent functioning for older adults on suicide outcomes. Third concerns the study of approaches to the provision of mental health care that is evidence-based, accessible, affordable, acceptable, and integrated with other aspects of care. The fourth area of high priority for research is approaches to improvement of social connectedness and its impact on suicide in older adults.

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