Festive season social support crucial to older adults

An Australian study published in the December issue of The British Journal of Psychiatry found that there would be 38 per cent less people contemplating suicide if adequate social support was available.

Leading investigator and Chair in Old Age Psychiatry, UWA Winthrop Professor Osvaldo Almeida said the results suggested social support was particularly important at this time of year.

“Thoughts about death and self-harm in old age are commonly linked to depression, but these results highlight that other risk factors may be just as important in reducing the prevalence of suicidal thoughts amongst the elderly,” Professor Almeida said.

“The incidence of suicidal thoughts in older adults is often understated and overlooked by family and friends because many people in society seem to believe that mental health issues are just part of growing old.”

Suicidal thoughts were seven times more common in older adults with concurrent anxiety and depression than in those without, he said.

“Our results indicate that people presenting with such symptoms should be screened for the presence of suicidal thoughts, but limiting our prevention strategies to the management of depression may fail to reduce significantly the number of people contemplating suicide in later life.  Facilitating the development of supportive and meaningful social networks might have a much greater beneficial impact.”

The study surveyed 21,290 Australians about their health, psychosocial, lifestyle and clinical data.  The participants were aged between 60 and 101 years old. 

Of these 4.8 per cent acknowledged the presence of suicidal thoughts.  Other attributable factors that affected suicidal thoughts included past depressive disorder (23 per cent), pain (13.7 per cent), no religious practice (11.4 per cent) and living alone (8.1 per cent).  Other major contributing factors included being male, having a higher standard of education, smoking, financial strain, childhood physical abuse, family history of suicide and a past suicide attempt.

The study was financially supported by grants received from the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia and beyondblue Australia.

Media references

Christianne White (WACHA)    (+61 8)  9224 2993  /  (+61 4) 15 213 361
Michael Sinclair-Jones (UWA Public Affairs)  (+61 8)  6488 3229  /  (+61 4) 00 700 783